I just finished Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and while I was reading I loved to talk to everyone about how introverted I am. I mean everyone: family, friends, co-workers, complete strangers. Anybody and everybody. And not many of them believed me either. After all, in any given group, I am easily the most obnoxious person in the room. I am boisterously social, and love public speaking. These are not really introverted traits. On the other hand I can just as easily pass up social gatherings for a quiet night reading, I am highly self reflective and love listening to people’s stories. I have a little of both in me.
Cain’s term for someone who is both and extrovert and an introvert is ambivert. I am not sure that, that describes me, but extroversion and introversion exist on a continuum. You will not find a pure extrovert or introvert; yet we have our tendencies toward either pole. In Quiet, Cain draws on a broad range of research about introversion. She describes in these pages the “man of contemplation” (which contrasts with the extrovert, “man of action”). In praise of introverts, she describes the gifts introverts bring to the table in a world that often holds up the charismatic extrovert up as the ideal.
Cain describes this ideal of extroversion as a relatively recent phenomenon. Before the likes of Dale Carnegie, self help guru of public speaking and author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, the self-help section of your bookstore had more to do with character development. Today positive, gregarious go-getters (i.e. Tony Robbins) help you get ahead in life and “be successful,” often dispensing advice on relationships and public speaking. However this growing cultural preference for extroversion overlooks what introverts bring to the table. Independent thinkers who work alone come up with technological breakthroughs; think tanks produce group think. This isn’t to say that introverts do not need extroverts to help them get their ideas across, but sometimes the creative process demands a more singular vision than a communal process allows.
In part two Cain describes the biological and psychological factors which make extroverts extroverts and introverts introverts. Children who are hypersensitive to outside stimuli tend to grow up to be more introverted . However temperament is not destiny and introverts can function highly in a variety of jobs which are traditionally seen as more extroverted roles (i.e. sales, public speakers, etc.) That isn’t to say that these “roles” do not take their tole on introverts but by providing space in their schedule for introverts to ‘recharge,’ they are able to take on roles and functions which serve them in pursuing their passions.
In part three of this book, Cain examines the Asian-American experience as an example of a culture who’s ideal is not extroversion. She tells the stories of various first and second generation Asian-Americans and their struggle to navigate America’s extroverted culture (especially in regard to academics and business).
In her final section, Cain turns her attention to how extroverts and introverts relate to one another, when and how much introverts should act more extroverted, and how to cultivate and challenge quieter kids in their development.
This book was great throughout. Susan Cain makes a compelling case that introverts bring essential gifts to the table. In one section of the book she describes how risk-adverse introverts knew that the crash of 2008 was coming while the extroverted “Men of Action” charged on full speed ahead. The introverts had thoughtfully weighed the evidence while the extroverts didn’t stop to think. But there voice wasn’t heard because they didn’t assert themselves the way extroverts do. Clearly we need the gifts of both extroverts and introverts in our communities.She also talks to introverts about managing social anxiety and fear of public speaking. Cain has had to face her own fears of public speaking but with practice and preparation she has become more comfortable and successful at it.
Cain offers her book to introverts and those who love someone who is an introvert. Certainly that describes us all. However I liked this book because it helped me get in touch with aspects of my character which are more introverted. Even if I’m still the most obnoxious person in the room, I give this book 5 stars ★★★★★
Thank you to Random House for providing me acopy of this book through the Water Brook Multnomah Blogging for Books program. This is my honest review.