Book Review: Susan Cain’s “Quiet”

Last night I finished reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. As I mentioned in my review on Goodreads, I think this book has value, and I applaud Cain for writing it. However, I felt somewhat disappointed in my experience with same.

The title of the book, and indeed the publicity I have heard about it from others  throughout the course of the year it has been released led me to believe that it would be mainly a treatise on the significance of introverts, what they have contributed, and most importantly, how introverts like myself can make use of what their natural tendencies are in order to succeed in an extrovert-oriented society. While there was some of that, especially pertaining to children near the end of the book, most of it was far more scientific than I was prepared for.

I understand that research citation is important, and I don’t fault the author for doing so. Yet it seemed that no sooner had I finished reading about one experiment, then I turned the page to read about yet another. I’m sure all of the experiments and studies and surveys that Cain cites are quite important to the field of personality psychology, but there is only so much of, “They brought 250 college students into a room, and showed half of them this, while the other half were showed that. After an hour each group was instructed to write down so and so, but were not told thus and such.” After a time, it felt more like a text book, and I glazed a bit here and there with the seemingly endless accounts of studies.

In other words, I get it. My brain as an introvert works differently. My cerebral cortex shows different activity under an MRI scan during certain stimuli than that of an extrovert. But I kept asking myself, sometimes to the point of anxious excitement, “but what can I do with this information that will make my life a bit easier? Where is the talk of this ‘power of introverts’ promised in title?”

In the end, this book would be ideal for those of either a highly scientific mind, (I am not, really), or those that have no previous knowledge of the fact that there is a biological component to their introversion. For such readers this could serve as a marvelous point of realization. But for me, it addressed the peripheral (the biology) and skirted around the practical. (What can I do each day to harness my power as an introvert?)

I did appreciate the subtle skewering Cain provides in some cases when describing the extrovert ideal. She would probably not agree that she is skewering it as a concept, but I feel that she is. At least skewering its place as a universal that some would bestow upon it. Her experiences at a Tony Robbins lecture display this absurdity beautifully, and I think perhaps this insider account is my favorite part of the book.

When not citing specific studies, experiments, or theories the book visits with real people. During these segments I felt somewhat more at home as a reader. I could indeed identify with the plight of any given introvert Cain interviewed for the chapter. Particularly when she covered the nature of fights within a marriage between opposite personalities. Even more so when describing the experiences of introverted children as they described their struggles in the extrovert factory known as school on our society.

These stories hit home with me, and I appreciated their inclusion. But I don’t think the book spends enough time on such things. And it doesn’t go far enough to relate those subjects’ experience to what the reader can do. Cain mentions  provides some perspective on what the subjects could do, and by indirect extension what the reader could do. Yet as I said, other than the final chapter aimed specifically at parents of introverted kids, the book lacks specific guidance in most cases.

Perhaps the book is designed that way. Perhaps its target audience is in fact extroverts who love and work with introverts, and have no clue what to do. If so, while the book is still light on practical advice, it may serve a larger purpose as an introductory text. It may help those who are gregarious and extroverted understand that we introverts are not weird, anti-social or necessarily shy. So educated by Cain, perhaps they can start treating and viewing people like myself differently. If that happens, the book will end up being a much appreciated work. Just not in the way I initially expected it to be.



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