Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

Book review: Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking susan cain
by Susan Cain

Crown Publishers, January 2012
Hardcover, 333 pages
Source: Library

Confession time: I’m an introvert. I like spending time alone, reading and listening to music. I enjoy going out and seeing my friends, but I’m often relieved to come home to a quiet house where I can unwind on my own. I love thinking critically, but I’m rarely the first person to leap into the discussion. And in a culture that seems to value extroversion over nearly every other trait, I’ve always been made to feel slightly insecure about these things. Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking helped me change my outlook.

Quiet presents an idea that Western society so often seems to contradict: that being introverted isn’t a bad thing; our brains just work differently than extroverts’ do. As extroverts have their own strengths, we have our own, and the world needs a balance of both types of people to function well. It needs the people who can go out and charm the pants off of clients, and it also needs people who are thoughtful and perceptive.

This book covers many really interesting topics pertaining to introversion/extroversion, and is broken into four sections:

The Extrovert Ideal discusses how extroversion became the Western cultural ideal, introverts/extroverts as leaders, and how collaboration can dampen creativity despite the prevalent workplace focus on teamwork. (Think open-plan offices and brainstorming sessions.)

Your Biology, Your Self? examines nature vs. nurture theories of personalities (although introversion/extroversion are linked to genetics, how much does free will and environment contribute to personality development?) and physiological/neurological differences between introverts and extroverts. (Did you know there are differences in how introverts and extroverts process dopamine? Or that our amygdalas and neocortexes work differently?)

Do All Cultures Have an Extrovert Ideal? looks at Eastern vs. Western ideals. Although Americans and Europeans value being brash, loud, and outgoing, Asians value studiousness and the respect and thoughtfulness quiet manners imply. Cain interviews several Asian-American high school and college students to learn about the cultural differences and how Asian-raised students function in American schools.

How to Love, How to Work considers when introverts should act more extroverted than they really are (such as when extroversion is required for pursuing something they’re passionate about), how introverts and extroverts interact with each other, and how to cultivate introverted children in a culture that demands extroversion.

This book was really enlightening for me. It was so validating! I’ve always thought that my dislike of small talk, need to unwind in solitude, and the intense guilt I feel whenever I do something wrong are unusual and problematic. Quiet, however, taught me that these are simply common traits of introverts and that there’s nothing inherently wrong with these things. Roughly one third to one half of people are introverts! It’s not just me! Plenty of people feel like I do, and that makes me feel so much more comfortable with myself.

This book also helped me realize what strengths I have, as an introvert: I think carefully before I speak; the quality of my communication is more important to me than the quantity. I am a creative thinker. (Did you know that most really creative people are introverts? They need quiet and solitude to think without interruption.) I process information deeply and will listen carefully to all points of view. I think before I act, I can stay on task for long periods of time without giving up, and I work accurately. The list goes on!

In addition to learning about myself, I picked up quite a few interesting facts:

– If you’re a sensitive type, you’ve probably been told you need to be more thick-skinned at some point. Apparently, extroverts actually, physically have thicker skin than introverts!

– Introverts are best at leading extroverted employees, and extroverts are best at leading introverted employees. Introverts listen to and implement their employees’ ideas, and extroverts inspire their employees to work hard.

– Introverts and extroverts get along well because introverts find extroverts exciting and fun to talk to, and extroverts find introverts to be good listeners that they can confide in.

Quiet is really well researched, and Cain includes many interesting studies that illustrate her points.  It’s a very readable book, and nearly every page held some fascinating new piece of information that I just wanted to tell everyone — hey, did you know?

I highly recommend this book. If you’re an introvert, Quiet will teach you a lot about yourself, and if you’re an extrovert, it will help you relate to your introverted friends, family members, and co-workers — because whether you know it or not, you have some. For employers, Quiet offers strategies for utilizing introverted employees by recognizing their needs and making the most of their strengths. For parents, this book provides advice on raising quiet children in a noisy world.


27 thoughts on “Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

  1. I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time, ever since a friend (and fellow introvert) excitedly told me about it when it first came out. This review makes me want to read it even more. Definitely moving it to the top of my list! I only wish more employers would read it 🙂

    • It should be required reading for employers! It really is important to realize that people work differently and have different needs when it comes to office space/amount of collaboration.

  2. Just reading about this book in various locations, including here, has been so validating for me. Even though I’ve long known I’m an introvert, I didn’t realize that some of my tendencies/preferences were actually common characteristics of introverts–I thought I was just out of lockstep with the rest of the world. I’m definitely going to have to read it!

  3. I need to read this! I’m a loud, talkative, out there kind of girl. Except when I’m NOT. I’m also a homebody and I always feel guilty about that 😦

  4. “Confession time: I’m an introvert. I like spending time alone, reading and listening to music. I enjoy going out and seeing my friends, but I’m often relieved to come home to a quiet house where I can unwind on my own. ”

    So, so true for me too! I love lessons, teaching, my friends and my man, but my favourite time of the day is the late evening/early night when everyone starts going home, it is dark and cold outside and a hot bath, a good dinner and a book/tv/movie is waiting for you at home.

    However, as the introvert I am and with the help of some reflection, I’ve realised I underrate the benefits of being in company of others. Sometimes, all I need is to go out and meet someone for a coffee and just talk, let it all out (be it good or bad) and find comfort in sharing the experiences with others. Sometimes, I forget human beings are social animals!

    • Oh my goodness, the evening you described sounds like perfection!

      Agreed! I don’t always like being in large groups, but I am so glad that I have someone emotionally close to me who I can talk to every day. And although I love an evening in with a book, it’s also fun to go out with a bunch of people sometimes. It’s good to shake things up!

  5. This sounds like a book about me, too–but then that seems to be the sentiment of a lot of my fellow commenters. It would be interesting to know if bloggers are predominantly introverts or extroverts; sometimes it feels like complete torture posting my personal ideas to the public–but then again, it is a lot more comfortable doing it from the privacy of my desk than in group discussing.
    Anyhow, thanks for the good review. This one has made it onto my to-read list.

    • That would be really interesting to know! The people who have commented on this post are a mix of introverts and extroverts, and I wonder how that balance (or lack thereof) extends to the blogging world at large — or whether the introvert/extrovert balance differs depending upon blog topic; are book bloggers more likely to be introverted than, say, political or PR bloggers? I would love to see a study on that.

  6. I am an introvert, married to an extrovert – I can’t get a word in edgeways even when I want to and I’m always complaining that he talks over the top of me in group settings, that’s probably the most frustrating thing. like someone mentioned I think I’ve become more introverted as I’ve gotten older. I am actually happy being that way as I’d rather consider what I say but sometimes I think so much about it I talk myself out of saying anything. Being an introverted blogger I often agonise over writing posts and reviews and especially about sharing personal stuff. Thanks for the review I’m definitely getting this book!

    • So many people think being quiet is a bad thing, but I agree with you; I think it can be a good thing that we think before we speak. I wonder if talking yourself out of speaking has more to do with shyness than introversion? I’m the same way, and I’m a bit shy. I hope you like the book!

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