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.
Whenever I approach non-fiction, I expect to learn something about other people or unfamiliar subjects. However, Quiet is the rare book that offered interesting facts and stories in addition to teaching me something new about myself. Before reading this book, I used to refer to myself as "an extroverted introvert." It was my way of explaining that I wasn't anti-social but all I really wanted was a nice, calm night curled up in sweatpants binge-watching Netflix. Looking at my life experiences through Susan Cain's unique perspective, I can now embrace my need for quiet and recharging solitude with confidence and recognize that introvert doesn't have to be synonymous with misanthrope.
Throughout my childhood, I was always that well-behaved, freakishly studious kid who got all A's and would rather stay in from recess to hang out under a desk with a pile of books. For the most part, teachers adored me- praising my potential and offering encouragement. But, every teacher-parent conference without fail, my mom would emerge with the same refrain of "I wish she spoke up more in class- her peers could learn so much from her." As I got older, these suggestions grew into requirements, and I would search every syllabus in dread of that one small, hateful word: "participation." It was my Achilles heel, often sending me teetering on the edge between an A and a B. So, I started speaking up more, over the pounding in my ears and the encroaching blush on my cheeks, fighting so hard to overcome this flaw.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking resonates with my story through articulating many others like it. The whole book reads like an encouraging and supportive letter from a friend, unraveling every hidden insecurity and converting them all to strengths. Cain lovingly weaves the stories of real-life introverts throughout each chapter: a Harvard business student, an evangelical preacher, a tax lawyer, a co-founder of Apple, a beloved, outspoken professor, and many more. These stories deconstruct harmful stereotypes by providing examples of successful introverts. But they also speak directly to introverted readers, suggesting effective ways to navigate an extrovert's world while still accepting and acknowledging your own needs.
Susan Cain possesses the remarkable ability to slip in and out of genres, moving seamlessly between fact, speculation, and personal narrative. While research remains an important part of her discussion, she manages to summarize decades of scientific debates in a few gloriously jargon-free paragraphs which are both informative and accessible.
However, the true strength of her writing lies in her willingness to speak to her audience and to perceive where their interests linger. Momentarily calming the static of psychological speculations and extrovert ideals, Cain gives the voices of the quiet (and artificially boisterous alike) an opportunity to speak uninterrupted and to be heard. One of the great pleasures of reading is seeing the world through new eyes, and Quiet definitely delivers. It's an enjoyable and surprising revelation to both introverts and extroverts alike.
Reviewed by Miranda Wojciechowski
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 1/29/2013