Thursday, July 4, 2013

Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

I first heard about Quiet on NPR, and as soon as I heard the byline ("The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking"), I knew this was a book I needed to read. I don't want to make this into a sob story or anything, but I remember feeling like there was something wrong with me as a teen and young adult because when it came to meeting new people or going to a big party, I would rather stay home...with a book. Even today, I'll take a book over most social gatherings.
Then, when I took the Myers-Briggs personality test in college, I realized this was because I'm an introvert.
Still, I don't think I ever really felt comfortable in my introversion. The world seems to be an extrovert's place, where you need to speak quickly and loudly to be heard, and where those who put themselves forward most audibly get furthest. And I knew that wasn't me.
So, when I heard about this book that explored how introverts' brains work, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how they can and should contribute their ideas to society...well, I had to read it.

At the beginning, Susan Cain clearly defines the difference between introversion and extroversion (which should be viewed as a continuum, I learned). At the most basic level, it boils down to the level of stimulation they prefer: most extroverts prefer the greater stimulation that comes with interacting with new people and tackling great obstacles or adventures; most introverts prefer the smaller stimulation that comes with quiet conversation with a close friend or listening to music or pursuing a hobby (like reading a book!). 
Susan Cain uses a wealth of statistics, psychological research, historical and current data, and information about our past and current economic and political figures to prove her point: that America does value extroverts as the ideal type, but that introverts, while quiet, have an important place. Indeed, she posits that if introverts continue to undervalue themselves, they will rob the world today and in the future of their ideas. For while it is the extroverts who often sell great ideas and make sure they are available to the public, Cain persuades the reader that it is introverts who often come up with these ideas in the first place. She proves her point with name upon name upon name of figures in ancient and recent history, as well as modern times. (Guess which of these were introverts: Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, W.B. Yeats, Chopin, J.M. Barrie, Dr. Seuss, Charles Schultz, J.K. Rowling, Steven Spielberg) (all of them!)
It is not just the world of ideas that Cain covers in this book, though. She also discusses the nature of introversion, the role of temperament and family, and how to live and work with both extroverts and introverts.
It was an affirming read and an engaging one. It made me think hard about who I am and what I should do with my gifts and talents, and it affirmed that there is nothing wrong with preferring to spend an evening reading quietly with my family than at a loud party.

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