When I heard through the book lovers' grapevine that a new title was to be published about the power of introverts, I couldn't wait to get a copy. As an unabashed introvert and someone who has read numerous books about this personality type, I was both eager and curious to read the new "it" book on the subject. And once I started reading, it quickly became evident that Susan Cain's contribution to the existing body of literature would be significant. Yes, she is an introvert and can therefore write from personal experience, but she is also an avid researcher of both the traditional and the real-world immersion kind. Though her research is current and substantial, the basic tenets of introvert-versus-extrovert issues she explores are, for the most part, not revelatory. Rather, it is her big picture view and her unification of so many aspects of one maligned temperament that make the book an excellent read.
Quiet is different from previous books on introversion because it explores the topic from so many perspectives. Other titles on this subject tend to be strictly in the self-help genre or straight memoir. Cain approaches introversion as a cultural anthropologist might, looking for all the ways it affects our society. How does a person become introverted? Can introverted people be good leaders? How does our education system affect the learning and well-being of introverted children? What is the best way to parent introverted children? Can introverted people be good at public speaking? Should introverted people try to act extroverted to fit in? Cain explores all of these questions and more with a mixture of anecdote, science, and personal experience.
She talks to pastors, takes seminars from hyper motivational-speaker gurus, interviews high school students who are children of first generation immigrants to the U.S., and mingles with Harvard Business School graduate students - all with the goal of fleshing out what would otherwise be strictly data and survey samples. Quiet's closing chapter, "On Cobblers and Generals," which tackles parenting introverted children, is one of the book's most valuable and contains the most unique information. In it, Cain offers not just practical tips, but also some thought-provoking information about how introverted children are wrongly perceived and the long-term damage this causes.
One of Cain's many accomplishments with Quiet is that she creates a work that reaches readers outside of the introverted spectrum. People interested in science, psychology, or the art of communicating with an introvert will all find value here. Because her treatment of the topic is wider than elsewhere - addressing it in American history, other cultures, in religion, in parenting, etc - I occasionally had trouble following the numerous threads of focus. Cain covers so much ground that I wish she had lingered more on some points and broken up the narrative less with abundant scientific research and study results. Nevertheless, Quiet is a satisfying read and a welcome addition to introverts' plea for the understanding and appreciation of our extroverted western world.
This review was originally published in February 2012, and has been updated for the January 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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