Monday, June 4, 2012

Quiet by Susan Cain

Crown Publishers
Released January, 2012
352 pages
Buy here.

This book is all about what it means to be an introvert in Western society, something that, as an introvert myself, I have struggled with all my life.  Reading Cain's book has made me realize that my introvertedness does not indicate that I am some freak of nature, but rather that I just happen to not belong to the group (extroverts) that our society tends to endorse without real legitimate reason, and that being an introvert does not signal deficiency, but a different set of skills.

Cain carefully explores different elements of the introverted vs. extroverted dichotomy.  In Part One, she deals first with the shift at the turn of the twentieth century in which America began to value the salesman-type personality over simple honorable behavior and how that preference has stuck with us up to today in current trends in classroom and workplace organization.  More importantly, she argues why such preference is not necessarily a good thing.  Part Two focuses on the science behind introversion and extroversion in terms of the nurture/nature argument and how the brains of the two types process chemicals and experiences differently.  Part Three operates as a single chapter of comparison between Eastern and Western ideals in terms of introversion vs. extroversion, and Part Four gives some good advice on and strategies to help your introverted self and/or child through our extroverted society.

The thing I like most about this book is the scope of research Cain puts into it.  She brings together a wide variety of studies and makes them the forefront of each chapter, and this makes the book, in part, an excellent literature review on the various aspects of the topic.  She also includes her own experiences as informal research, and she describes various workshops designed for introverts that she attends, as well as interviews with the people who run those workshops.  Being an introvert herself, she also includes personal anecdotes as well as composite stories of other introverts she has met and helped through their struggles.  She also includes biographical bits about various historical figures who struggled with being introverts.  All these different types of sources help to flesh out the studies that Cain presents, and they also contribute to a more varied and engaging reading experience.

The one pitfall of this book is the organization of material in each specific chapter.  The overall organization of the book across the four different parts is wonderful and makes a lot of sense, but within each chapter, Cain seems to jump back and forth a lot between the studies, her anecdotes, historical figures, and back again.  Given what I just wrote above, this obviously isn't, on its own, a bad thing.  Sometimes it was just hard for me to connect the stories with the science.  The most glaring example of this is in Chapter 6, the title of which highlights Eleanor Roosevelt and in which Cain writes about how Eleanor was an introvert.  This information is given, however, around the research of Dr. Elaine Aron, but the only connection I can see between the two is the way in which Aron is compared to Eleanor Roosevelt on a personal level.  Personally, I didn't feel that particular connection was enough to focus on both in the same chapter.

Still, I feel I got a lot out of this book, particularly, as I mentioned above, the reassurance that there is no need for me to feel like my introvertedness is something that needs "fixing"; it just happens to not be glorified in the school and workplace in the same way that extrovertedness is, and that's not my fault!

Rating: 3.5/5

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating review. This book sounds like something I would read. I am also in introvert by nature, though being a teacher I am "forced" to overcome that and perform in the classroom in ways I would never have imagined doing prior to becoming a teacher. I feel like I should get this book.