I’m a definite introvert and I’m willing to bet that if you’re the sort of person who spends a lot of time not only reading books but following blogs on the internet that talk about reading books, you’re probably an introvert too.
A few years ago there seemed to be a sudden insurgence of articles and essays and comics on introverts and how to deal with introverts and how introverts and extroverts differed. I even wrote a blog post about it here! This is right around the time that Susan Cain’s exploration of introverts was published. I’m not sure if Cain spawned the conversation or was part of something already brewing but Quiet is probably still the definitive book on introverts six years later.
Cain explores what it means to be introverted, how introverts think and interact, how it affects relationships and careers, and why we as a society seem to place a higher value on extroverted qualities. (By “society” I mean North America and this is what Cain primarily focuses on. She does have a fascinating chapter on the social differences and values between Western and Eastern attitudes and how that plays out with Asian immigrants in North America.)
Overall the book is very readable. Cain cites a lot of other research and studies, as well as her own work. There are plenty of anecdotes and case studies, as well as exploration of historical figures.
As an introvert myself, I wasn’t super surprised by most of Cain’s findings. I found myself nodding along to her descriptions and recognizing myself in several of the stories. (Who knew introversion might be the reason having the radio on, the dryer going, and my kids running around makes me feel really stressed out?) Cain’s exploration into highly sensitive people (who are often also introverts) was particularly interesting and I appreciate the chapter at the end that focused on children and parenting. (Pretty sure I’m raising one introvert and one extrovert here.)
Personally, I’ve never felt limited by being an introvert. From a young age I was applauded for reading a lot and being studious. It’s true that every report card I ever had suggested I participate more in class but I also always had a strong group of friends. It occurs to me that it may be easier for young girls who are introverted than boys but this isn’t something Cain delves into. However, it’s easy to see how our society rewards extroverts or, at least, those who can fake extroversion. I was quite a shy kid and that’s definitely something I’ve had to work to overcome so it was encouraging to read the research on the benefits of being shy and introverted.
I would recommend Quiet to anyone interested in human behaviour and many introverts might find their own behaviours illuminated. But I think I would recommend it more to extroverts than introverts, especially extroverts who work with or are in relationships with introverts. We’re not an alien species but this book might help you understand us a little better.
(Now tell me, is my hypothesis correct? Are you an introvert or an extrovert?)
5 thoughts on “Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain”
Your hypothesis definitely works with me; I’ve always been an introvert. This sounds like an interesting read. Like you said, it may not be hugely eye-opening for an existing introvert, but it’s always nice to feel seen and validated, if nothing else.
I haven’t read this book, but Susan Cain’s work is often recommended in leadership development in my field. I have enjoyed her Ted Talks for sure. I’m an introvert working in an extroverted world and so continually improving my confidence in public speaking, networking, etc. I am also glad, though, that (at least where I am) the idea is catching on that some of our team might just need a minute alone to prepare their best ideas (instead of on the spot in a meeting, for example).
You would probably really enjoy it – and I could definitely see how it would be applicable in your work. Cain actually talks about that exact scenario of how introverts need time alone to prep, no matter how well they may know their material.
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