Thursday, December 20, 2012

REVIEW: Quiet, by Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. Published 2012 by Crown. Read by Kathe Mazur. Nonfiction. Business.

Like 1/3 or so of you, I'm an introvert. I like to be alone; I enjoy solitary activities like crafts and reading; I need my "down time" after a lot of time interacting with people. I always eat lunch by myself, for example, and appreciate time to unwind alone before my husband comes home from work. I was drawn to Susan Cain's fascinating book because I think I was looking for validation, and while I certainly found that, I also found a lot more.

Cain's discussion is quite wide-ranging. She starts out with a discussion of the history of the "extrovert ideal" in American culture in the late nineteenth and early 20th century, with the rise of cities and corporate culture. All of a sudden, the quiet, contemplative life was replaced with the go-getter fast track. People were told to be outgoing, forthright, aggressive self-promoters- and told that this was the only way to be, that anything else was unacceptable. Advertising grew by creating new reasons for Americans to feel insecure; personal hygiene and appearance mattered suddenly, and so did personality. Dale Carnegie started the self-help industry with his classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, which continues to be influential today with its tips and tricks for the shy and socially awkward. I've used the book myself to help learn easy ways to start conversations. Cain continues by profiling several prominent organizations, including Harvard Business School and Tony Robbins' seminars, that encourage and promote the extrovert ideal. Then she spends the rest of the book examining the psychological and physiological underpinnings of introversion, extroversion and introversion on a broader cultural scale and finishes by discussing how personality styles can influence family dynamics.

All in all, I found the book to be really interesting. I found most of it to be well-argued and supported, and I really appreciated the thoughtfulness she brings to the subject. As I was listening (I listened to the audiobook) I was thinking about where I fit in in all this, which personality traits and habits I recognized in myself. I can be quite outgoing when I'm doing something I care about, like when I'm at work, and I love having big parties and lots of friends, so I'm not 100% introverted, but I still saw myself in a lot of Cain's insights about how introversion works. And I don't think my extroverted side is really inconsistent with my introverted side after hearing the theory about "free traits" and how introverts (and extroverts) can adjust their personalities to their present circumstances. I was also thinking about my husband, a lawyer like Cain, and how he might appreciate her insights about their shared professional background.

I'd definitely recommend Quiet to introverts who could gain a better understanding of themselves but also to extroverts, who could better understand the quieter half of the room and appreciate what they have to offer. Even though she's quoting studies and talking about some pretty serious science, her style is accessible and no special background is needed. It's informative, fun to read and chock full of information for people all along the personality spectrum.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.