on 25 January 2013
I came across this book in a book-store, sealed with a promotional band, which made it impossible to read more than the back cover. Still I was intrigued. This book had been written for me, or so it seemed. It was a unique feeling. All my life I thought there was something "wrong with me" because I did not fit the extrovert model. Here was a book and a writer saying the opposite. Sheer heresy. I went straight back to my Kindle and downloaded it, probably the best £5.49 I've ever spent. Not good for the shop but at £16.99 I wouldn't have bought it anyway, not with a band sealing it.
If you prefer a book to a party, prefer Star-Gazing to Big Brother, prefer to think about what you say rather than just spouting forth, you may also be someone this book was written for. If you're at ease with "introversion" you still need this book for what it tells you about you. If you're not at ease with "introversion" then you need it even more.
This book is not a panacea. What it does do is set the record straight. Knowledge is power.
I picked this up after reading an excerpt in the Guardian. Unfortunately, that excerpt contained most of the interesting information from this book. Cain catalogues the differences between introverts and extroverts thoroughly - a bit too thoroughly in places, going round and round over the same ground - and for 90% of the time is more than biased towards extolling the merits of introverts.
I raced through the first 50 pages, then found it just got lodged in a cycle. Either Cain takes an example of a famous historical figure (Rosa Parks; Apple's Steve Wozniak) and tells us how this person could not have been who they are/were without being an introvert - a valid point, but it only needs making once, and equally, the same comment can be applied to extroverts; or she cites some non-famous case study ie, extrovert Mr X and his introvert wife Mrs X who have a personality clash, figure out how to fit their introvert and extrovert natures together, and luckily provide a useful example of how introverts and extroverts complement each other.
We then get pages of bland glossing of scientific research on introvert and extrovert brain activity in certain situations - interesting at first; tiresome the fourth, fifth, sixth time round - and then the whole thing wraps up with 20 pages or so on how to "cultivate" your introvert child that read like a self-help guide.
When I started this review I gave the book four stars, but having just re-realised how tiresome it was, I've downgraded my rating to three stars. The whole book could be condensed into 150 pages without losing any crucial information.
For many years introverts have been seen not only as less attractive and more boring than extroverts but also as a problem that needs to be fixed, so they could fit comfortably in the mold of society.
Susan Cain, if not innovatively then certainly adamantly, makes the point that introverts are as important as extroverts and that society should appreciate, learn from and make use of their special talents and not try to form them into something that they're not because that would be to the detriment of everybody. She also emphasizes how extroverts could improve their social relations and creativity ("solitude is a crucial ingredient to creativity") by taking a leaf out of the introverts' book from time to time.
The book is written from a US point of view and as the US is the most extrovert place in the world, it might not be seen as imminently important here in Europe, but I think she's got some very important points - especially when it comes to schools and work places, where group work is now majorly favoured to individual work and that just isn't a method or an environment that suits everybody, and as research proves, it's not usually the most efficient way to work either - whether you are an introvert or an extrovert! I appreciate that group work (which by the way she describes as "elitism based on something other than merit") in certain cases is a result of constrained finances, but if that means losing talent and potentially damaging people, the costs to society and companies might be lower if we found a better middle ground.
I think she has covered the subject very well; she has defined what it is - and what it isn't - shyness e.g. is not the same as introversion, she says, as it's can be defined as fear of social judgement rather than introversion which is how you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation, where introverts prefer quiet and low-key environments whereas extroverts create lots of stimulation.
She doesn't work with absolutes but backs up her claims with plenty of research and common sense and with an estimated 30-50% of the (US) population defined as introverts, I think she is difficult to overlook - even if she speaks with a quiet voice.
She also deals with how we could potentially improve conditions for introverts and the interaction between introverts and extroverts and she looks at geographical and historical points of interest as well as how parents with introverted children can help their kids both in and out of school.
It's a big subject for a fairly short book, and as I mentioned there is lots of research backing up her claims, but she has managed to make it an easy and entertaining read full of anecdotes and presented with a logical structure and good language flow, so even if you don't subscribe to all her claims, or you are an extrovert that might not feel this necessarily concerns you, I would recommend you give it a go and think about the people you know whether from work, school, friends, partners, children or housemates and I think you'd be surprised just how many - to a small or large extent - fit the description of an introvert.
And of course then you could go and have a one-to-one chat to them about this book and see if maybe they have something interesting to share about the subject (that is if you can keep quiet long enough to hear their stories!).
As somebody else has mentioned in their review, there is a TED presentation of her ideas. It far from covers the contents of the book, but it is a good intro and worth a watch (just search on the author's name on ted.com). The headline of my review is from the presentation.
on 9 April 2012
Apologies for the long review, but I believe this book merits a lot of discussion.
I discovered 'Quiet' by Susan Cain when, in frustration after being criticised for not having a great aptitude for making small talk with strangers, I googled the word 'introvert'. I know myself well enough to know that my lack of small-talking skills in busy environments or large groups is essentially hardwired into my brain, and I wanted to know if there was anyone who could empathise with this or if I was simply an aberration. Fortunately I found 'Quiet', and it's been one of the most helpful, timely and affirming books I've ever possessed.
'Quiet' not only gives insight into the neurological makeup of introverts, but also includes a lot of helpful information about how an introvert can make the most of his or her way of thinking. For example, Cain points out that the brain chemistry of extroverts makes them reward-driven, while introverts are far less so. So she suggests that when it comes to a career, introverts need to 'find their flow' - that is, an activity that can make them feel rewarded solely by the process of immersing themselves in their work, rather than by the 'reward' pay-off sensation that often drives extroverts to achieve.
Cain is enough of a realist to understand that there are many situations in life where introverts necessarily have to act extroverted, which can put introverts in a dilemma because it may seem as if we're being deceptive or disguising our true selves to the detriment of our emotional wellbeing. However, acting extroverted can be justified, Cain suggests, in pursuit of achieving the goals of our 'core personal projects': if you find something you care about enough, you can choose to find the willpower to appear extroverted where necessary in order to achieve it. I have found this to be a very helpful principle that I can use to determine when and where to put on my 'extrovert' face.
I'd recommend 'Quiet' to anyone who is introverted or highly sensitive, anyone who is in a position of leadership of any kind, and anyone who is in any sort of relationship with someone who is perplexingly reclusive or quiet. If you are an introvert, reading 'Quiet' may give you the affirmation you rarely receive in a world that fixates on 'bringing you out of your shell'. In fact, reading it may give you enough self-acceptance to repair the damage done by the social exclusion/stigmatisation that introversion can bring, and make you a lot more confident in social situations. I work in a busy environment surrounded by people constantly competing for my attention, but since reading 'Quiet' I have found that not only do I no longer feel bad about finding my work environment hard to handle, but I can also actually handle its demands so much more easily.
One final note: Cain has been criticised for mixing up her labels - sometimes she seems to be describing introverts; other times, the highly sensitive. However, this isn't such a big problem when you consider that the premise of 'Quiet' is essentially that silence, thoughtfulness, seriousness and a propensity for solitude are underrated in our culture, and that people who embody these characteristics tend to be either introverted or highly sensitive or both. Moreover, there is a huge overlap between introversion and high sensitivity. Cain adresses this issue in a note at the back of her book, and it seems clear to me that her purpose isn't to label people or cause us to label ourselves, but to make us all more aware and respectful of the different values embodied by different people.
on 25 January 2013
Stands out above the general run of self-help pop psychology books as a series of well evidenced observations on other ways of being rather than a 'how to be wonderful' lexicon. My only minor beef is the standard NYT tic of spending a paragraph describing the appearance and dress of the person being interviewed or quoted every time.
As an introvert myself, I was quite fascinated as to the insights that might be contained within this book, but ready to be disappointed with yet another thinly disguised self help book. What I got was a book that contains the most cogent argument imaginable for changing the approach to management, learning and life in general.
Extroverts are very good at energising people and carrying projects forward, but the introverts should be the ones allowed the time and space to get the projects started as they are far more likely to have workable ideas. With a number of real life examples this book doesn't lack rigour as some others do. I would recommend it for all people, extroverts and introverts alike, but I have a feeling that the managers that I have come across would regard the conclusions reached as unworkable! Read this book and come to your own conclusion, but I urge you to at least give the argument an unbiased hearing.
I am very happy about this 'introvert revolution' that seems to be going on at the moment of which this book is surely part. It's nice to finally realise that introverts have as much to offer as the more bold and outgoing members of society.
To sum up this book, I would say that it's a book researching the different characteristics of extroverts and introverts. There are stories, case studies, statistics, psychology and personality trait analysis. Being an introvert herself, the author is clearly writing from that viewpoint which probably makes it much more valuable to other introverts. That's not to say that extroverts, or those who don't know or don't identify with either, won't find it equally as interesting as I feel that they will.
What I liked about this book is the feeling of validation that I got from reading it. Having said that, I was pleased that it wasn't bashing extroverts or saying that being one was better than the other. It just laid the groundwork for everyone complementing each other and getting along in life and business. It's not too heavy and is, overall, an enjoyable read.
As a self-confessed introvert, I found Susan Cain's Quiet to be a pleasing read. Upon reflection, though, that is largely because it bigs up us quieter people - some of Cain's assertions about extroverts are patently silly, even if she's clearly being tongue-in-cheek. I think she's trying to make the argument that society is tending towards valuing certain personality types at the expense of others, but the problem is that people don't fit neatly into one type or another - we're all a mixture of traits.That said, I think it's an important message that quieter people have their own, extremely valuable strengths. It is hard to feel like you fit in when everybody else seems to want to stay out partying and you want to go home with a book - and it's nice to feel affirmed in that, even if the issue is not as black-and-white as presented in this book.
Pleasingly Quiet is a well-written and clearly well-considered popular psychology book and unusually for a popular science writer Cain admits that some of her own preconceptions and assumptions about the subject are flawed which made me warm to her as a writer. However, like many recent popular science and psychology books, Quiet is a quick read and feels padded out with superfluous case studies and anecdotal examples. Perhaps I have a higher level of scientific knowledge than the average reader, but I don't find descriptions of scientists particularly useful in explaining their research so the tendency for popular science books to do this kind of annoys me. I'd say Susan Cain's TED talk on the same subject ([...]) argues her case much more eloquently - because the message isn't diluted by irrelevant details.
on 28 August 2015
Western culture exalts an "extrovert ideal" dominates and introversion is viewed as inferior or even pathological.
She claims that at least one-third of the people we know are introverts. I think that is an over-estimate. But she is right that they (we) are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favour working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labelled "quiet," it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society--from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.
I score 14/20 in her test so I am fairly introverted.
There’s an horrific account of a seminar held by someone called Tony Robbins. It lasts 15 hours without as break – the sort of thing that ‘cults’ do to brainwash people.
Rick Warren and his Saddleback megachurch come in for justified criticism. She traces its style back to the First Great Awakening, to George Whitefield who drew standing-room-only crowds with his dramatic impersonations of biblical figures and unabashed weeping, shouting, and crying out. She says that the Second Great Awakening was even more personality-driven; its leaders focused purely on drawing crowds, believing that too academic an ap¬proach would fail to pack tents. Many evangelical leaders gave up on intellec¬tual values altogether and embraced their roles as salesmen and entertainers. "My theology! I didn't know I had any!" exclaimed the nineteenth-century evangelist D. L. Moody. This kind of oratory affected not only styles of worship, but also people's ideas of who Jesus was.
I am guilty, as a teacher, of making small group work the focus of my lessons. Would I have liked to be one of my pupils?
Too often groups squeeze out the dissident voice in order to conform. This has serious implications for our jury system.
If sharing ideas is beneficial, doing it online, rather than face to face, gives solitude.
p. 188 sets up a false comparison, quoting Eastern sages in favour of not speaking too much versus Western advice to talk. If she’d looked at the Book of Proverbs, she’d have found advice similar to that from the East. Given that her grandfather was a rabbi. I am surprised she didn’t know this.
There’s a disappointing chapter, towards the end, about relationships between introverts and extroverts. Opposites often attract and marry but she says little about the ways these relationships can flourish.
She is under the misapprehension that ‘extrovert’ is a popular spelling and that it is correctly spelt ‘extravert’. It isn’t.
She does labour the point, perhaps, too much over 271 pages and some of the material is repetitive.
It’s a pity that most extroverts won’t read it.
on 27 July 2014
Have you ever been at a party and wished that you are somewhere else, in the company of a loved one or with a book in the quiet of your home? Do you feel exhausted surrounded by large, noisy society? You are not alone. In fact, you'll spend most of the time nodding through the book by Susan Cain, just as you answered positively to the previous questions, while Susan will try to explain why the world need such people, introverted, shy and closed, and why we need to stop with the group culture that encourages extroversion.
From the first book on the subject by Dale Carnagie had passed half of century, and a cultural revolution in extraversion ideals that arose from it remained the same; it is made of people with a solid handshake, a smile on their face, skilled speakers with the ability to agree with everyone. "Revolution" is dragged into all aspects of Western life, in offices, schools and universities, and private life. The author emphasizes that it is not an invention of modern times, actually goes back to the distant past - everyone knows the story of Moses, who had Aaron to be his "voice", or traders and explorers of the Middle Ages. However, it is time to discuss about the other side of the coin.
Susan Cain presents the thesis that today introverted persons are very subtly labeled with subprime personality traits such as shyness, comparing it with women in a man's world – being ignored because of the qualities that are part of them. People in such societies ceased to notice the difference between a good presentation skills and true leadership – difference between chatter and talent. The author helps explaining the problem through simple medical and statistical evidence. There's a reason why introverted person feel exhausted and tense in a large company - their brain is too stimulated, and too sensitive to too much stimuli. Statistically, in fact, there is no difference between introverts and extroverts. Neither one nor the others are not significantly smarter, more talkative and more creative than others. The only difference is what they are, how they feel and ultimately, how others perceive them. Stressing the medical implications of the phenomenon, the author says that the difference is not insignificant, insofar as it can be dangerous to the immune system.
Cain wanted to show the importance of the character of each person, and how and why it is necessary to identify and develop, as talents are developed. This book is a real discovery for all introverted, looking for insights that somewhere out there is someone else like them, but also for the extrovert people who want to understand how people on the other side feel. Maybe your partner, best friend, colleague or family member of someone you want to understand. In doing so, this is not a book of advice - discussing topic on examples of real people and personalities through everyday problems such as speech before an audience, business challenges or relationship between two spouses of different characters. Subtle hints can be found only at the conclusion of the book.
(Introverted) author bold debut has won numerous awards and prizes, and Susan Cain became the voice of the silent people when she wrote this extremely important book, which is an impressive title. As she says: "No one is braver than the person who speaks with the courage of his convictions," and when someone breaks so important biases she should not be underestimated.