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Book Review: "Quiet" Intrigues Introverts and Extroverts Alike

Shaina Eng |
February 21, 2012 | 12:04 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

"Quiet" by Susan Cain offers some interesting insights on introversion.  (Barnes & Noble)
"Quiet" by Susan Cain offers some interesting insights on introversion. (Barnes & Noble)
What do Charles Darwin, Steven Spielberg, J.K. Rowling, Eleanor Roosevelt and Al Gore all have in common?  Other than being considered successful in their respective fields, they are all introverts. 

This may surprise you, since the term “introvert” has held a negative connotation for quite some time; however, “one out of every two or three people you know” are introverts, according to Susan Cain in her book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”

So what exactly does it mean to be an introvert?  As a self-proclaimed introvert, Cain explains in the introduction that she spent many years searching for the answer to this question. 

There is “no all-purpose definition of introversion or extroversion; these are not unitary categories, like ‘curly-haired’ or sixteen-year-old,’ in which everyone can agree on who qualifies for inclusion.”  Introverts feel more comfortable with less stimulation, are able to concentrate and work deliberately, and listen more than they talk. 

Cain emphasizes that “the word introvert is not a synonym for hermit or misanthrope,” and being an introvert does not necessarily make a person shy (although it is possible that an introvert can be all these things).

The author then goes on to explain different factors the influence the way we see introversion and extroversion.  In Part One, Cain argues that America went from being a “Culture of Character” (how a person behaved in private) to a “Culture of Personality” (how others perceive them), and that it is this change in our society that has led us to associate extroversion with success and virtue. 

Cain disputes this claim, providing examples in which introverts have overcome this Extrovert Ideal and embraced their introversion, while also arguing that brainstorming, which is at the heart of the Extrovert Ideal, does not actually work.

In Part Two, the author explores the idea that introversion and extroversion are inherent in our genetic makeup.  She considers the “nature vs. nurture” argument, while also drawing a link between high-reactive children and introversion.  She also discusses how free will plays into being an introvert, and explores the differences between how introverts and extroverts think.

In Part Three, Cain asks the question, “Do all cultures have an extrovert ideal?” and looks at differences between Western and Eastern cultures.

Finally, in Part Four, Cain offers advice to introverts in many aspects of day-to-day life, addressing issues such as when it is appropriate to act more extroverted, how to talk to extroverts if you are an introvert (and vice versa) and how to help your introverted child growing up in a society that encourages extroversion.

“Quiet” is a must-read for introverts and extroverts alike.  Cain not only includes wonderful insights into the mysteries surrounding introversion, but she does so in a way that is entertaining and engaging to the reader; through her use of anecdotes and by dividing up the book into several small parts, the reader is not bogged down by dry facts and technicalities but can see the heart of her argument through her vivid storytelling.  

Whether you consider yourself an introvert or know someone who does, “Quiet” provides a fascinating look at introversion and encourages an appreciation for our society’s undervalued introverts.

Reach reporter Shaina Eng here.  Follow Shaina on Twitter.



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