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Cannonball Read V: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

By reginadelmar | Book Reviews | February 22, 2013 | Comments ()


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Susan Cain has become quite famous since the publication of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Her TED talk is on line (I haven't watched it), and she wrote a column for the NYT defending introverts at a time when a few critics suggested that President Obama is a poor leader because he is an introvert. After reading this book, I may now speculate whether certain public figures are extroverts or introverts, but I question whether this would be time well spent.

When I picked up the book I was looking forward to reading about people who weren't always seeking the limelight. Cain describes Dale Carnegie's environment at the turn of the 20th century: "America had shifted from what the influential cultural historian Warren Susman called a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality." We are certainly still in that age. Who isn't a bit tired of this society of constant self-promotion, a lifetime of job interviews, PowerPoint presentations, and those people who tweet and post photos of every moment of their lives?

The book is a mixture of individual stories, the author's own experience, and discussion of numerous studies and research. One thing we learn is that group learning and collaboration may not offer the best solutions because extroverts take over such processes and introverts don't work well in such environments. Some of the best parts of the book are about children who are introverts. It is difficult for kids who are introverts to succeed in settings in which they are constantly encouraged to work in social groups, be it group learning, play groups or organized sports. Give such kids space to just be themselves by themselves.

Ultimately, the book left me unsatisfied in part because it felt unbalanced. After a couple of chapters, I hoped I was an introvert because Cain extolled the many virtues of introversion while making extroverts into big golden labs: cheerful, frenetic and not that smart. Extroverts made rash decisions based on insufficient information. Who wouldn't rather be like Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mahatma Ghandi, or Warren Buffet? Introverts are reflective, they think before they speak, they're the smart investors when everyone else is running off the cliff.

The other problem with the book is that by the time I was finished I wasn't clear who truly is an introvert. Introversion and extroversion are biologically determined, but can be influenced by nurture as well. Introverts were described as highly sensitive types, more likely to be Asian, social but not gregarious, preferring to read a book in the evening instead of go out to a cocktail party. The only thing they all seem to share is fear of public speaking, as Cain uses this fear again and again in her case studies of individuals. (I suspect that some extroverts may have that fear as well).

The last chapter is packed full of platitudes of how to be a successful introvert which is probably the weakest chapter in the book. By then we already know that the best world is one that values and respects both types of people.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it , and find more of reginadelmar's reviews on the group blog.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)







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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • KiMMiE"

    Thanks for this review. While the book doesn't sound that promising, I do enjoy reading about the differences between introverts and extroverts. It makes me crazy when people assume "introvert" means unfriendly or shy. I'm not that shy--I can be very friendly and dare I say even charming at times! But after a full day around people, I'm exhausted and need to recharge, and I'm totally comfortable with that. A book I did enjoy on this topic is called The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney. It talks more about the brain chemistry involved in what makes us introverted or extroverted.

  • Great review, my partner and I have both read this book, and it's quite interesting. It isn't always correct though, I have no fear of public speaking, yet I am probably the most introverted person in my family. I need a good hour or two every day to recharge. I almost never met my partner because I don't like going out to bars, luckily one of my extroverted friends dragged me out that night...

    Anyways, thanks for the good read.

  • blorft

    http://www.ted.com/talks/susan...

    Here's the TED Talk, for anyone who's interested! It's only 20 minutes, and I think it helped a few of the people(extroverts) in my life understand it a little better.

    Plus it was sort of empowering to hear someone saying good things about introversion, especially because in grad school I often have to role-play extroversion and it is exhausting to balance that with actually being true to my personality.

  • emmelemm

    Thanks for the review, as I've been very curious about this book. I may still read it, but I don't feel like I'm especially compelled to read it any more.

  • aspidistra_bird

    Thank you for this review. I've almost bought the book a few times and now I think I can skip it.

    Two pieces of writing that made me comfortable with my introverted self were the fabulous Atlantic Monthly article, Caring for Your Introvert by Jonathan Rauch and a book, The Party of One by Anneli Rufus. After giving my extreme extrovert father a copy of both, he finally, after 37 years, stopped haranguing me to go out every night and be social. It made our conversations so much more pleasant!

  • ronniedobbs

    THANK YOU for referring to these two articles. Very helpful for introverts like me!

  • katenonymous

    My husband and I both read this book because we're having some issues with our daughter's day care--it is an extravert-friendly environment, and we are pretty sure that she's an introvert. It reinforced what I was already thinking, and helped my husband feel better about the "issues" we're hearing about from day care. I'm planning to give them a copy of the book, actually, because I don't think they have a strong understanding of this need.

  • Return of santitas

    Just curious, what are the "issues"? I am a fairly introverted person, and a nursery school teacher. One of the hardest things to do is carve out time and space for children (and myself) to chill and recharge. What I have found helpful is to designate an area with cushions and let the children know that if they need to have a break, they can go over there and I will help defend their alone time. We have a few children who do this every day--curl up on a pillow for ten minutes and then rejoin the play. It really is like recharging their batteries. I think the key is that it happens on their own terms, not at a designated rest time. Might be something to suggest to the daycare, as all it requires is that they leave your daughter the hell alone for five seconds. Which strangely is sometimes a big ask for teachers.

  • katenonymous

    Some of them really are issues--her language development is a little slow, which isolates her from her peers, which interferes with some of her skill development because her teachers rely on peer modeling--but part of it is that they don't seem to understand that she sometimes needs just what you're describing: a break from what she finds overwhelming. She'll usually get it by reading, or by playing by herself in the sand. But to them, it's a problem if she's not *always* doing *everything* the other kids are.

  • Jannymac

    It's scary to me sometimes how society can project all kinds of negative things onto an introvert. So young men who like to be quiet and alone are all serial killers and older women are all the witch in the gingerbread house.

  • sweetfrancaise

    I grabbed this book as an ARC at work last year--I've always known I was an introvert, but I've never accepted the whole package, even with (years!) of therapy. I'd never read anything on introversion before, beyond a few paragraphs here and there on the internet, so this was a revelation. The things I did weren't weird anymore (it's rather taboo to be quiet in the US, ESPECIALLY in LA), and I can't begin to describe what a relief that was. Quiet doesn't go particularly deep, but I don't think it means to--in fact, the author's introduction explains that she couldn't include everything she wanted in the book. Cain's work is a glimpse to the world of introversion and shows how the world benefits from those of us who don't thrive on tons of social interaction. I think its best attribute is the few studies of parent-child relationships, if only because I wish I'd had it to show my mom when I was a kid.

  • spljt

    Thanks for sharing the review. Anything that has to do with personality tendencies interests me greatly. As an introvert myself, I am intrigued by Cain's diagnosis of introverts and the fear of public speaking. I rarely post comments because of this fear, yet I also teach and have to stand up in front of adults and lead them in learning exercises, which doesn't cause me any fear. I wonder why one setting intimidates me and another feels completely natural? I may take a look at the book to see if Cain addresses this dilemma.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I know the feeling. I, too, am an introvert (I didn't know that was a thing until now, btw), and after discovering that I could post my opinion on the internet, I hesitated a long time before doing so. But there were some issues I felt strongly about, so I just started one day. Now I'm regularly posting mostly inconsequential and silly stuff on a pop-culture website. Good times.

    I still am deathly afraid off speaking publicly. I have become better at it over time, but after most of my presentations in university, I couldn't remember what I had been saying.

  • Kru Peach

    I'm an introverted teacher too, and I have no problem with public speaking-- in fact, I prefer it to party-type chit chat. I think it's because teaching and performing don't reflect the Real Me in the way that posting a comment about my opinion does....

  • mswas

    Maybe it's something to do with feeling that the written word is permanent? Once the thought is converted into black and white, it seems like it will be here forever - so it feels hard to get it "right." In conversation, or when teaching, you can correct mistakes on the fly. Glad you commented.

  • Tinkerville

    I loved this book primarily because I'm an extreme introvert working in a very extroverted industry and worry constantly that my career will suffer because of this. Ever since middle school I've always longed to be an extrovert so that I could function better socially. I appreciated learning about the benefits of introversion but agree that it was definitely one sided and it didn't exactly address what should be done to better include both types of people, just that the current system wasn't working as well as people think.

    To address your question, from what I've learned introversion doesn't necessarily mean shyness (like a lot of people assume) but has to do with energy-- introverts are energized when they're alone and that energy is drained when they're around people. It doesn't mean we don't like being around people, just that it can be draining and exhausting. Extroverts are the exact opposite and become more energized when they're around people.

  • emmelemm

    Thanks for this comment, as it sums up my feelings as well. (Not about the book, which I haven't read.)

    When I heard the explanation that "introverts don't have to be *shy*, they're just drained by social interaction, whereas extroverts are literally powered by interaction", I felt like every light bulb in my poor sorry head went on at the same time. That's exactly how I feel, because I'm really not *that* shy, and I have lots of friends, and I genuinely enjoy spending time with them. But I do find social situations to be stressful and draining, and moreso the greater number of people who are involved.

  • katy

    Thanks for the review, I've been meaning to pick this up for a while. I have three kids and my oldest and youngest are true extroverts, have been since they were babies. They thrive on attention and no more than five minutes can go by in our house before we hear from one or both of them. But my middle child is very much an introvert. She will disappear for an hour at a time without a peep. As long as she has movies to watch and/or an iPod to play, she's content. She's also the only one of the three who will specifically ask for time alone. When we have parent teacher conferences for them, guess which ones always come out glowing and which one always seems to have something a little "wrong" with her. My husband and I are also introverts, who do enjoy socializing when it happens, so we can really relate to our middle child. It breaks my heart to know she's going to have a tough go of it because of how extroverted children are usually favored in school.

  • lowercase_see

    My mother gave me this book for Christmas. I think she's secretly hoping I'm an introvert and that that would explain why I haven't as yet done anything remarkable with my life.

    No, Mom, Netflix is why I haven't done anything with my life.

  • Muhnah_Muhnah

    I've been seeing this book everywhere and wondering what it's about. Thanks for the review. I'm an introvert, born into a family of raging extroverts, and I've always appreciated both sides. My family, over time, learned that sometimes it's just best to let me be. I struggled in school, generally just daydreamed my way through it. Now as an adult, I've found that you simply have to tell people what you need. They'll usually respect it. I also don't think either extroverts or introverts are smarter or anything. I do quite a lot of dumb things even after thinking about them, mostly out of curiosity or just "Why the hell not".

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