Quiet by Susan Cain

Read  November 2017
Recommended for people who know introverts
★    ★    1/2

Shhh–I’m taking some quiet time.

Kidding! I’ll be honest. I avoided this book the first time I noticed it, when the buzz had it popping up all over. But my introversion has been more than a bit disrespected lately and I was feeling a little need for some affirmation. Alas, I’m not sure I found much helpful here.

Part One is ‘The Extrovert Ideal,’ and looks at how the change from the 18th century ideal of personality to 20th century cult of personality emphasized extroversion as a valuable workplace trait. I liked the concept of the two, as the cultural evolution from one to the other makes a great deal of sense, but I’m not sure how accurate that may be. I feel like Americans–and perhaps everyone–has always been responsive to extroverted, charismatic people. Actually, that highlights an error in Cain’s thinking, that she frequently conflates traits. To give her credit, she admits from the beginning that there is no uniform definition of ‘introversion.’ At page 11, she finally defines her terms, but she unfortunately tends to define them in terms of examples:

“Still, today’s psychologist tend to agree on several important points: for example, that introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well. Introverts feel ‘just right’ with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a close friend, solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book. Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing slippery slopes, and cranking up the stereo…. Many psychologists would also agree that introverts and extroverts work differently. Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly. They make fast (sometimes rash) decisions, and are comfortable multitasking and risk-taking… Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration. They’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame.”

It’s some slippery stuff, because she ends up conflating a number of characteristics, and that’s where it can get really fuzzy. This lack of specificity also means relying on anecdotes of how introversion is a helpful trait. Later in the book, she does bring in studies about ‘reactivity,’ a genetic-based trait that she prefers to call, ‘sensitivity.’ I’ve seen the term before, in The Highly Sensitive Person, and a lot of it comes from research on reactiveness/responsiveness to stimulation and how that is then interpreted. To be sure, it’s interesting stuff, but it doesn’t necessarily apply to all introverts, as she points out, “about 70% of sensitive people are [introverts]” (page 145). After backtracking to explain the evolutionary basis for selection of sensitivity, she then attempts to tie sensitivity and conscientiousness together. It’s a thin, tenuous line to get from introverted to evolutionary sensitivity to conscientiousness and then imply that that’s the kind of person you want in your company. As singular issues, each of these is well-presented. She usually cites one researcher and gives an example of a famous person who changed the world with this trait (Eleanor Roosevelt represented the introverted, sensitive and conscientious person). But it feels like both sloppy logic and false aggrandizement. As an introvert, I no more want to be ‘special’ for these qualities that presumably go with my genetic and personality tendencies than I want to be disrespected.

For no particularly good reason, except the fact that it described me better than I’ve ever been described before, I’m actually a fan of the Jungian-based personality assessment. I think I particularly responded to the Jungian analysis because rather than the two-axis basis, there’s other traits that also affect how we interact with the world. I actually think there’s quite a continuum between introversion and extroversion, and that these tendencies can be modified by learning, as Cain rightly points out in section two.

So, about Quiet. I don’t think it really added anything to my understanding on introversion and extroversion. In fact, I think it fell into a more extroverted (as she would say) analysis of having to prove the worth of the trait and using famous figures to support her examples only added to that perception.

Quiet didn’t give me the acknowledgement I was looking for, really, just a lot of cheerleading that I’m a good person for being an introvert. Hopefully, for those new to discovering their introversion, this might encourage them to both understand and respect their approach. Just don’t look for many tips.

For a more rigorous analysis, check out Kelly’s review:



About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, Non-fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Quiet by Susan Cain

  1. alicegristle says:

    Mm, thanks for reading this so I don’t have to. 🙂 I’ve a particular kind of dislike for books like this, that throw confetti at you instead of enlightening. Then again, I recognise that many people genuinely benefit from cheerleading, so it can’t be all bad!

    • thebookgator says:

      Describing it as the confetti approach is accurate (and a great visual!). You are right; I think the people that loved this the most weren’t aware of the degree of their introversion or were feeling badly about it.

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