Book Review: Quiet

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is one of those books that has the power to change your worldview.  No matter who you are, introvert or extrovert, you will come away knowing yourself better.  The book looks at introversion from a sociological perspective, not a psychological one.  (Cain also talks a lot about traits that are correlated with introversion, such as high sensitivity and high reactivity.)  The breadth of the book is impressive; you could even read just one or two chapters and still come away with a feeling of having learned a lot.

I admit, the ideas in Quiet were a minor epiphany for me (I interrupted my husband’s bedtime reading many times by exclaiming over something I just read).  I have always assumed that my quiet nature was weird, that it could only hinder me.  My lack of ambition would prevent me from turning a job into a career, and my penchant for reading instead of partying would preclude close friendships and dates.

Quiet postulates that I had these ideas in my head partly because society put them there.  The book begins by setting the stage with current (often unwitting) attitudes toward introversion.  Contemporary American society adheres to the Extrovert Ideal, venerating the assertive and outgoing.  We idolize movie stars and strive to be smooth-talking salesmen.  We live in the cult of Personality–instead of the cult of Character that previously held sway.  We now read self-help guides about how to appear confident and energetic, while a century and a half ago we would have to looked to books like “The Pilgrim’s Progress” for guidance. It is not surprising that introverts (a third to a half of society) can feel marginalized and discounted.

Quiet then goes on to discuss why this is a problem.  Our workplaces and schools are built around extroversion—open office plans, group brainstorming, team projects, etc. Because these circumstances favor extroverts, the ideas of introverts often get overlooked.  Studies have shown that extroverts are not smarter, nor do they have better ideas.  They are not always even better leaders.  So if we want to fully use all the resources available to increase workplace creativity and productivity, etc., we need to learn to work with introverts.  Introverts, likewise, need to learn how to cope in an extrovert world while staying true to ourselves.

As a scientist, one of the most fascinating parts of the book was the discussion of the genetic, neurobiological, and psychological bases of introversion.   I am not sure if others will find it too technical; I found it very readable.  All the studies are cited in the back of the book as well.  Cain tries to not get hung up on terminology and technical distinctions so that we can appreciate her overall ideas.  Some points that stood out to me: introversion has both innate and learned components; other animals display introversion-extroversion; introverts tend to be more intrinsically motivated and less reward-seeking—this segues into the chapter theorizing that our current recession was precipitated by the extroverts of Big Business who didn’t know how to check themselves.

The last part of the book delves a little more into the “self-help” realm, but the tone of the book doesn’t change at all, so it doesn’t feel preachy or fake-cheerful.  Cain suggests that introverts can act like extroverts, but at a price—it saps our energy, so we should try to build breaks into our day to recharge ourselves.  Sometimes, it behooves us to be more extroverted, but our listening and empathetic abilities can also be powerful tools.  We can also begin to encourage our introverted children to be the best they can be, in a way that they can relate to.  We can avoid labeling them with the stigma of “shy” and give their teachers tools to help them learn in their own way.

I wish I could mention every point that was novel or personally relevant to me from this book, but that would be a book in and of itself!  Just go get it from your library, and get through what you can with whatever time you have.  You don’t even have to read through it like a novel, just start with a section that sounds interesting to you.  Quiet is not a quick read, but it is engaging, and it will be highly rewarding.

Tl,dr:

  • Rating: 4.5/5
  • Recommended for: introverts and those who love them
  • Not recommended for:

–people already very comfortable with their introversion
–people looking for self-help
–psychologists/people wanting clear definition of psychological terms, or those who dispute the works of Jung, Kagan, or Aron

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