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Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking
Susan Cain
Crown Publishing Group
Published January 24, 2012

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About Quiet

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society. 

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, QUIET has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.

My Review

I first read this book years ago, and I remember a lot of things suddenly making sense about myself and my daughter specifically. At the time I was a single mom with an elementary-aged daughter whose teacher was very much an extrovert. She seemed to prefer a collaborative learning environment in the classroom, which can be great. My daughter struggled with some of the methods her teacher used. I remember her teacher seeming frustrated or worried about it. I think she wanted my daughter to be able to engage more fully and was troubled that she didn’t seem to be getting her work done. My suspicion was that there was too much stimulation making it difficult for her to work. Reading QUIET helped me articulate that more effectively. I ended up giving a copy of the book to the teacher, who also loved it.

I started listening to the audiobook again this year because I’d been having trouble sleeping. I wanted something kind of low key to listen to– you know, no big dramatic climax or high stakes– so this seemed like a good fit.

It really struck me how much I had forgotten or how many things that didn’t apply to my life when I read the book before do apply now. I’m currently married and now have two children, sharing a communal-style home with my parents. And we are a house FULL of introverts! So it’s been really interesting thinking about some of the challenges and advantages common to introverted people in various stages of life and… in the midst of a pandemic.

Thinking about the pandemic also really changed what stood out to me in the book this time as I read/listened to it. Cain discusses research into how different animals with both introverted and extroverted members of their species handle risks. Different situations tend to give one group the advantage over the other in terms of survival, because their natural instincts either protect them or expose them to additional risks.

Introverts, Extroverts and Covid (Skip this section if it’s too political for you.)

Early on in the pandemic, I remember thinking that being introverted gave us an advantage because we weren’t ever really big go-out-and-do people. We do things. Sometimes? At our highest level of social activity, my husband and I had nearly weekly game nights with another couple. We rarely eat out at a restaurant– he has trouble hearing and I don’t speak very loudly. We like restaurant food, but takeout has long been our preferred approach.

So while we had to make sacrifices and change our behavior, the changes weren’t nearly as dramatic as for our extroverted friends who have huge house parties every few months and are super active in our local theater productions. I figured that as things began to normalize or restrictions began to loosen/Covid-19 case numbers began to drop, our extroverted friends would be more easily able to return to going out because that was a more comfortable, natural life pace for them. And I think that’s been true.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the chapters on how introverts and extroverts process risk. If I can oversimplify, introverts tend generally to be more risk-averse than extroverts. Sometimes extroverts head directly into risk when it would be better to retreat. Cain discussed some examples and studies on this. I’ve been thinking about that as I watch all these heated discussions about mask wearing and social distance guidelines. It’s not like all the extroverts I know are anti-mask and all the introverts are pro-mask. It’s definitely not that simple. But I guess it has helped me to think about the fact that sometimes there are motivations that I didn’t consider or understand behind people’s behaviors.

That doesn’t change what I think about masks… I’m still really pro-mask and think it falls within the values of loving others and being a responsible community member. But it helps to realize that it’s not that simple for a lot of people, and that there may be genetic or scientific reasons they are behaving the way they are.

Review Summary

I enjoyed reading this book again. It’s one of those books packed with so much information that I don’t know if I could absorb it all in one read. Even now I like the idea of revisiting certain chapters when I’m ready to look at more information.

There’s also a version of this book for younger readers called QUIET POWER. I don’t have it right now, but I really want to check it out. I’d like to post a review of that one as well. If you’ve read it already or have posted a review, please tell me about it in the comments or you can reach out to me on Twitter.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Mostly discusses research and examples of famous introverts and extroverts. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. are both mentioned. The depiction of Rosa Parks doesn’t line up with some of the descriptions from her autobiography. Cain also interviews a Chinese-American college student who’s an introvert in a program that overtly values extroverted behavior. He talks about how a summer in China was so different because some of the cultural values were more comfortable for him as an introvert and how validating that was for him.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content

Spiritual Content

Violent Content

Drug Content

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