Book Review

Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

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Title: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
Author: Susan Cain
Publication Info: Crown 2012
ISBN: 9780307352149
Genre: Nonfiction

Book Quiet

It has taken me weeks to read this book. This is very unlike me. While on a long flight a week or so ago, I read two books on the plane, and another on a train the following day. But I read this book so carefully, and highlighted and noted so much, it was a very slow read. A very slow, very enjoyable, completely dumbfounding, poleaxing, holy carp illuminating read. This book is amazing.

Quiet was recommended to be my two people who I do not believe know each other, or, if they do, they probably don't know that they were both reading this book at the same time. But in both cases, each said that the information within this book taught them so much about themselves as introverts, it was a revelatory experience. They are 100% right about that.

Quiet is nonfiction, and excellent nonfiction at that. It's a thorough mix of analysis and research, explanations of varying fields within psychology, plus personal anecdotes about social situations, all focused on the idea of introversion. It addresses questions such as:

What is an introvert? How is introversion defined? Short answer: not easily, because there isn't one definition that easily applies to all introverts, though more definitions exist that explain what introversion is, as opposed to defining it by what skills or traits introverts lack.

What are the differences between extroverts, introverts, and omniverts? (That's a word – for reals.)

How does being highly sensitive affect an introvert, or an extrovert? Both can be highly sensitive – which I didn't realize.

I know I'm an introvert, and many people who know me have rolled their eyes when I've said as much, but it's true. I remember taking the Meyers-Briggs type indicator as a freshman in college, and scoring so decidedly far towards the introvert scale I should have been given a quiet room and a case of books as a parting gift. I also remember the other students thinking that I'd somehow done the test wrong because I was (and still am) pretty talkative.

Quiet helped me understand how that duality exists, and how introverts can learn to function as extroverts, especially in social or professional situations, and most especially in America, which, culturally, is extremely extroverted. Moreover, American culture lauds and admires those who exemplify an Extroverted Ideal. (Finland, according to research cited in the book, is among the most introverted countries, so I totally want to visit.) The book also explains how individuals from other cultures often struggle with the value systems in American culture, especially in school systems where outspokenness and assertiveness are frequently the most rewarded traits.

Another valuable aspect of the narrative was the situations profiled in different chapters, such as the conflict between an extroverted husband who wanted to host informal dinner parties with many of his friends every Friday night, and his introverted wife who thought that was about the worst idea she'd ever heard. Not only did the book follow the reasons for their conflict and decipher them from an introvert/extrovert point of view, but it also examined how each person's argument style (loud and energetic vs quiet and very reserved) further exacerbated the problem they were having.

Cain also takes into account how the internet and specifically social media has reformed the venues in which introverts interact, and why communications within online communities are often completely unique from the interactions one might have in person. She also examines various leadership styles and how introverted leaders in business often achieve very different results, sometimes exceeding the financial success rates of extroverted leaders and CEOs.

But most of all, though, I can't tell you how stunning it was to read a book which was about a major facet of my personality, and which was able to explain things about myself that I knew were true, but didn't always know why they were true. Moveover, I recognized some introverted traits in my children, and the examples of parenting methods and strategies were enormously helpful, too.

Right now this book is $2.99 digitally, and, if you're an introvert or close to someone who is, I can't recommend this book more effusively. It's thorough, clear, thoughtful, and easy to read, with a balanced composition of scientific data and research, individual stories and accounts, and examples and suggestions. It does not suffer that obnoxious self-help writing habit of constantly teasing the reader with the solution while still outlining the various problems – e.g. “In a future chapter, I'm going to teach you how to solve this problem! But now, we're going to take a look at this other thing that has nothing to do with what we're talking about right now.” I hate that.

Here are some of the passages I highlighted while I read. Some – not all. If I shared all of them, this would be a 60k word review, and, yeah. No one wants that.


Introversion— along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness— is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.


This has absolutely been true in my experience. If you've met me in person, I am pretty friendly and sometimes gregarious. I like to talk to people and I'm very curious (or nosy, depending on your point of view). I love listening to people talk about things they're passionate about, and I genuinely like people. (This is why meeting romance readers is SO much fun. We're passionate about so many similar things.) But I have a limit in my ability to talk with people in groups larger than about 3 or 4 people, and for a long time got really mad at myself for being unable to keep up and keep going when at conferences or with larger groups of people. I'd internalized that ideal, and had perceived my lack of social endurance as a failing.

 

Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions. Having benefited from the talents of their followers, they are then likely to motivate them to be even more proactive. Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity, in other words.

 

Having worked with and for many different introverted and extroverted people, the ways in which extroversion and leadership combine were fascinating for me.

Many introverts are also “highly sensitive,” which sounds poetic, but is actually a technical term in psychology. If you are a sensitive sort, then you’re more apt than the average person to feel pleasantly overwhelmed by Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” or a well-turned phrase or an act of extraordinary kindness. You may be quicker than others to feel sickened by violence and ugliness, and you likely have a very strong conscience.

Well, damn. This book even understand why I don't like romantic suspense and romantic thrillers. I mean…dude. 

I haven't felt so completely understood by a book in… ever.

This is a bit outside the romance genre, to say the least, but this book was deeply fascinating for me. If you're an introvert, and have sometimes wondered what was wrong with you that you feel or experience things so differently, I think your experience might be similar to my own, and the experience of the people who recommended this book to me. I hope you'll share what you think of the book if you read it.


This book is currently $2.99 at many retailers and is availble at: Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | All Romance eBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    ABSOLUTELY! I have known since forever that I’m an introvert, but always got mad at myself for not being able to be an extrovert. She references Elaine Aron’s work on the Highly Sensitive Person. When I discovered that book when I was in my mid-20’s I had the same sort of profound experience that you had with this one. Then I had kids and there are days when THEY WON’T LEAVE ME ALONE.

    I mostly enjoyed this book because of its insights on work and school. Raising introvert kids is no picnic and trying to get along in an open-plan office, as I did for several years, is even less of one.

  2. 2
    Heather S says:

    This book has actually been on my TBR list for a while – back when you guys first started mentioning it, I think, was when I made a note of it. I haven’t gotten around to getting it yet, but as someone who is surrounded by a family of extroverts, I’m definitely out-numbered and not very well understood. Yes, going into my room, shutting the door, and reading is more appealing to me than tv, dinner parties, and socializing when all the family is over to visit. I feel overwhelmed by an excess of noise (especially when little kids are around) and often have to escape the area.

    I’ve read some on introversion, but now I’m thinking this book needs to move up my priority list – I’d love to learn why I do some things, don’t do other things, and basically why I am the way I am.

  3. 3
    Jill Shultz says:

    Culture can definitely mask your introvert/extrovert inclinations. When we did Myers-Brigg at work, I tested out in the same category as a woman I didn’t know well, with whom I’d soon be working closely on a big project. We both stared at each other, frankly shocked. Over lunch, we talked, discovering how attuned we were.

    She was certain I was an extrovert when really, I’m an introverted New Yorker. All New Yorkers seem like extroverts to native Mainers.

    We worked together so well! It was such a pleasure to work with someone who understood and respected my style.

  4. 4

    We’re in good company. Even Ghandi admits that he can’t speak extemporaneously (wonder who came up with that monstrosity of a word?) and does better talking one on one than in groups. It makes sense that some of the best thinkers in the world are introverts—-they spend their time thinking instead of making meaningless small talk to anyone and everyone who will listen. Great review.

  5. 5
    Dancing_Angel says:

    this is a great book.  I may have to buy a copy for my very own.

    I remember that dinner-party anecdote vividly!  The wife suggested that the husband host the parties without her, to give her a chance to regroup after a long work-week, and the husband was appalled at the very thought.  The line that stood out for me was that “he’d gotten married so he’d never have to be alone again.”

    I read that and thought, “OMIGOD, the fresh horror.”  While I love being with loved ones and close friends, I LOVE being alone.  The thought of always having to be with someone else is torture.”

    (Why yes, I am an introvert, why do you ask?)

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    @Heather:

    Yes, going into my room, shutting the door, and reading is more appealing to me than tv, dinner parties, and socializing when all the family is over to visit.

    I used to hide in closets during really huge family gatherings, before I had little kids to wrangle, because then I could read and enjoy total silence (if I brought earbuds, which I did).

    And yes – Phyllis, the experience of open floor plan offices was agony for me, too. I was fascinated by the section about how damaging they are to people’s health and well being, too.

    If you’re curious, this is what it says in the book:

    A mountain of recent data on open-plan offices from many different industries corroborates the results of the games. Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory. They’re associated with high staff turnover. They make people sick, hostile, unmotivated, and insecure. Open-plan workers are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure and elevated stress levels and to get the flu; they argue more with their colleagues; they worry about coworkers eavesdropping on their phone calls and spying on their computer screens. They have fewer personal and confidential conversations with colleagues. They’re often subject to loud and uncontrollable noise, which raises heart rates; releases cortisol, the body’s fight-or-flight “stress” hormone; and makes people socially distant, quick to anger, aggressive, and slow to help others.

     

     

  7. 7
    Karenmc says:

    This is such an illuminating book. I’m MUCH more social on line than I am IRL, because, as Cain points out, introverts get their energy from being alone. Many times I’ve skipped important social functions (weddings, significant birthday parties) because even the idea of attending exhausts me. Baby/bridal showers used to fill me with dread. Knowing why I react that way has made attending such things less stressful.

  8. 8
    ridiculousspider says:

    I remember skimming part of the first chapter of this book and being like “Yep.  Yep.  Yeah.  Uh-huh.  I know that feeling.”  I’m an introvert in that I can only deal with other people for a certain amount of time before I get very tired, drained, and often irritable.  I can talk to other people.  I don’t consider myself charismatic or smooth in conversation but I’m not shy.  Mostly, I’m quiet. 

    One thing I absolutely detest is when people call me antisocial because I’m quiet and introverted.  No.  I’m not antisocial.  Ugh.  Misused words.

  9. 9
    JPeK says:

    Very rarely do I buy e-copies of books I already own in print, but I identified so strongly with this one that I was happy to shell out ~$3 to get a copy for my Kindle. Like everyone who’s already commented, I had my share of “holy crap! leave me alone!” moments growing up that friends and family members just didn’t understand. I often felt guilty in my early 20s for not going out more with roommates or friends (usually hearing a refrain like this, “What?! You’d rather stay in and read a book than go out dancing with us?! Don’t you want to meet people?…”).

    I warned my fiance before we married a year ago that I would often need space alone to decompress after a day teaching 100+ students. It’s been hard, at times, because he’s under-employed and so is often around the apartment on my days off (I’ve been teaching on a MWF schedule at our local community college). Luckily, I was able to share thoughts from this book, which helped me explain that while I love him dearly, I also dearly love (& need!) my solitude. So, now it’s an inside joke that anytime his friends invite him for a weekend away or his parents, a visit home to his family (a 2-hour drive), that I will be very, very encouraging that he accept :)

     

  10. 10
    JPeK says:

    @ridiculousspider

    One thing I absolutely detest is when people call me antisocial because I’m quiet and introverted.  No.  I’m not antisocial.  Ugh.  Misused words.

    Exactly!

  11. 11
    rachel says:

    I just bought the book on your recommendation and the notes you made about the extrovert husband/introvert wife example. That’s basically me and my husband. He’s always, “hey, let’s have people over tomorrow!” and I’m always, “what?! that’s a terrible idea!” (but I can’t say that to him because it hurts his feelings, so I agree and then have to spend three days in a room by myself to recover.) I have high hopes for this book now!

  12. 12
    Alexandra says:

    I’d never heard of this book, but I am SO excited to read it. I’m one of those people that tests introvert/extrovert every other time I take a personality inventory. My knowledge of psychology is pretty basic, but if an omnivert is a combination of the two I’m thinking that’s me. I will definitely be recommending this to people I know!

  13. 13
    Susan says:

    I waited so long to buy this book, and when it finally went on sale awhile ago I snatched it right up. . . and then let it languish in the TBR pile.  I guess I really need to pull it out.

    Many moons ago, I took my first Myers-Briggs test as part of a big team-building retreat for work.  (Oh, the agony.)  I wouldn’t tell anyone my designation since I was the only person in that grouping and it made me feel like a total freak.  I’m friends with both extroverts (my closest friend at work is one of the most extroverted people in the building) and introverts and enjoy the different aspects of our relationships.  In the past, tho, I have found it very difficult to live with an extrovert due to my need for alone time.  “Please, just come sit in the same room with me!”  “No, you’re smothering me!”

  14. 14
    Terrie says:

    Yup. I’m another person who didn’t realize I was an introvert until I took the Meyers-Briggs— though I did know I have always enjoyed alone time and a good deal of it. The version of the dinner party conundrum that my husband and I experienced circled around last minute preparations. He was always asking me to do things at the last minute before people were scheduled to arrive. We finally worked out that in the fifteen minutes before we expect company, I just get to go so sit somewhere. I’m going to be fine and sociable once company arrives, but I need that quiet alone time to gather my forces.

    Hopping over to Amazon now!

  15. 15
    Elinor Aspen says:

    I need to find time to read this book. I can tell everyone who has the challenge of an extrovert spouse that a marriage of two introverts has its own challenges. Often, even when I want to attend a social event, my husband is unwilling, and I feel too awkward to go alone. Other times, I am the wet blanket that keeps us home (or taking a walk or enjoying a dinner out with just the two of us). The togetherness is nice, but I sometimes fear we will turn into friendless hermits by the time we reach retirement age.

    On the challenges of an open floor-plan office, I wonder if any studies have been done on the effects of an open floor-plan school? They were considered very progressive at one time (in the 1970s and 1980s), and I attended one from the ages of 7 to 11. The “library” was called the IMC (for instructional materials center), and it was the sun around which the unwalled classrooms orbited. There were low bookcases but nothing high enough to block line of site from one side of the building to the other. To this day, I long for old-fashioned libraries with floor-to-ceiling stacks and quiet, lonely corners. When we travel, I send my friends postcards of such libraries.

  16. 16
    SB Sarah says:

    @rachel:

    I have high hopes for this book now!

    That example and the explanations that followed were really helpful for me, because I’ve had similar conversations with my husband, who is very much an omnivert. What I found especially helpful was how not only the disagreement was the problem but the way they each responded to the disagreement was causing more harm than good as well. I also liked the possible solution & compromise they came up with.

  17. 17
    phyllis says:

    Elinor, you make some good points. My husband is also an introvert, but not as much as me. But he has made very little effort to make friends and is uncomfortable with the husbands of my friends. I enjoy social events with people I know, then have to come home and crash and make everyone leave me alone for at least a day after.
    Also, with the open plan school, my kids have had a rocky start with a Montessori charter. Sometimes, there’s too much noise and motion and they just can’t handle it. I’m home schooling my Midler child because he burned out a couple of years ago.

  18. 18
    Maite says:

    Goes on the To-be-bought list.
    Deal’s not valid in my homeplace, I’ll wait.

  19. 19
    cleo says:

    Great review – I want to read this.

    I only see the 2.99 price at Amazon. At BN they have a 30 minute summary for 2.99 but the actual full book is more.

  20. 20
    Francesca says:

    I’m an introvert (INTJ) and an only child with no extended family. Over the years I learned how to function in a large group of people, but I’m exhausted by the end of any gathering. I had 16 people for dinner Saturday night, which I survived by hiding in the kitchen most of the time. My husband is somewhat more outgoing, but he respects my need for solitude. We have his-and-hers dens and are quite happy to spend entire days doing our own thing with occasional visits.

  21. 21
    JMM says:

    ISTJ here!

    Oh, the ridiculousness of being dragged to these HUGE (and LONG) family parties and hiding away with my uncle to recharge – the banging on the door – “Come on out and be sociable!”

    Or going out to eat – with myself and a book – and some jerk deciding to rescue me from my “loneliness”. GRRR

  22. 22
    Milly says:

    Slowly and tentatively raises hand over here **Hi!**.  I remember doing Briggs-Meyers and getting 85% introvert and my boss looking at me and going what? He couldn’t understand how I could be introverted and still do my job as a credit manager effectively?!  That’s why I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book and the TED talk she did.  This book was like looking into a mirror for me and validated so many things.

    PS I hate labels even though I can peg people right away… how typical ISFP of me :).

    PPS, back in the day: report cards lauded independent work, now its shown as a downside. Give me my group of one any day.

  23. 23
    kkw says:

    Introvert is old psych jargon for homosexual. I wonder if antisocial will eventually stop meaning sociopathic and only mean introverted. Its definition does currently include both meanings. I don’t care if people are calling me sociopathic. Or homosexual. I always figured one of the perks of being introverted is that I’m not all that bothered by what other people think.

  24. 24
    Kelly S. says:

    I loved this book!  My hubby and I listened to it on a long car ride.  I’d pause it every so often and we’d discuss what we heard and how much it applied to each of us.  Turns out he is a bit more introverted than I am and I peg the end of the introverted scale on Meyers-Briggs (ISFJ).

    While it is nice for introverts to read this and learn more about themselves, I really want every extrovert to read it so they stop harassing us and realize they aren’t “rescuing” us when they insist we interact.  That extroverts learn THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO BE ALONE!  Sorry, that needed and needs to be yelled, loudly, in public, often.  I’m ready to argue that introverts and night people need to be accepted on a diversity platform.  We’re misunderstood and mislabeled as “anti-social” and “slackers” respectively.  No and no.  Just because I don’t want to interact with you right now, doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with me.  Just because I prefer to sleep until noon having gone to bed at 5 am, does not make me a slacker.

    Anyway, awesome book! I’m very excited as I’ll hear Susan Cain speak at the Global Leadership Summit.  She also did a TED talk, but the book was much better.

  25. 25
    Qualisign says:

    Beta (or gamma) hero/ines = introverts?

    Just thinking about the last podcast in light of this review…

  26. 26

    Could we all just agree to NEVER say to a child “oh, you’re shy” or “are you shy?” or “I guess you’re shy.”

    Nope, just an introvert. (Channeling the kid, not me, LOL)

    GRRR.

  27. 27
    Persnickety says:

    Oh I loved this book.  It was really nice to understand that I was not alone in my need to be alone in the quiet.

    My mum made a point of telling my husband very early on that I needed to have an alone space ( my study). Huh.

    But, I do actually learn better when I talk about the subject at hand, so tried to find small study groups in college.  And when I did speech and debate I specialised in extemporaneous speech/impromptu speech.  And it was helpful that the book shows how introversion does not stand in the way of that.

  28. 28
    Spygirl7 says:

    “Introvert is old psych jargon for homosexual.”
    kkw, I think you mean “invert,” not introvert. Invert can mean “opposite,” “transposed,” “reversed,” and I think that’s why it was used to stand in for homosexual (as in “opposite of heterosexual”).

    I’ve seen this book at the library before but after this review I really need to read it.

  29. 29
    SB Sarah says:

    @Anna:

    Could we all just agree to NEVER say to a child “oh, you’re shy” or “are you shy?” or “I guess you’re shy.”

    YES PLEASE. I’ve said to my kids, “Are you feeling shy?” – because it’s a temporary feeling sometimes. Being labeled as shy can pile on the idea that there’s something really wrong with you if you don’t like being around people or don’t want to speak or interact at a particular time. “Shy” implies that the expectations placed upon you aren’t being met. FEH.

    And, sort of related to sensitivity, I also dislike that kids are expected to kiss or hug people on demand when an adult wants them to, and I know that as a kid and now as an adult, sometimes I very much dislike being touched. I struggle with that one a lot.

  30. 30

    Thank you for reviewing this! I’d had it on my wish list for some time, and yesterday saw that I had an unused Audible credit, so I chose Quiet. I look forward to listening!

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