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Susan Cain – Quiet

Book Cover

For too long we’ve been silent about being silent.

Publisher: Broadway (Random House)
Pages: 266
Type: Non-Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-307-35215-6
First Published: 2012
Date Reviewed: 29th January 2013
Rating: 4.5/5

Cain explores the history of personality and details experiments and social situations to tell her readers why introverts are important and why they’ve been relegated to second-class citizen status.

Quiet is a rather good, often provocative book that seeks to change the way the world works. Drawing on her personal experience and research, Cain has compiled a thorough document that is both an explanation and a manual for change.

The word personality didn’t exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a good personality” was not widespread until the twentieth.

Cain begins by explaining how there hasn’t always been this conscious split in the western culture, between those who are quiet and those who are louder. It is very interesting, however she doesn’t allow the facts of this to be the focus of her book, in other words her aim is not to go back to the days when to be quiet was preferred, rather it is to create a balance in society where both extroverts and introverts are valued equally. The focus is the overall way in which society has come to value the traits of extroverts, for example that teamwork and the insistence that prospective employees have people skills has caused a skew, leaving introverts at a loss, literally, and favouring a sector of society that, Cain says (and uses evidence to back up) accounts for at the most two thirds of the population.

If we assume that quiet and loud people have roughly the same number of good (and bad) ideas, then we should worry if the louder and more forceful people always carry the day.

Cain highlights the fact that introverts are often better off working alone as opposed to in teams, that team-building days and brainstorming sessions can make it appear as if they have nothing to contribute. Indeed one of Cain’s hopes is that society will not be so obsessed in future with open-plan offices. And in case anyone is reading the book and thinking that she is wrong in her suggestions, Cain spends a chapter looking at other cultures (as opposed to the US) and how they value introversion more. She looks at how Chinese Americans function in American schools and the way they feel they must adapt – and, of course, how they feel America is does it wrong sometimes. This is not to say that some white Americans don’t feel this way, but in highlighting an obviously different cultural group Cain is able to enforce her point.

A big part of the book, even if it is only most obvious at the end, is Cain’s wish to impart teaching ideas and methods for parents to better support their children. For example, Cain describes the extreme of extroverted parents who seek medication for their child, not understanding why the child is quiet. She suggests how classrooms could work better and speaks of how school is so important to get right, how teachers should stop including on report cards the wish that a child would speak more. This is an understandable part of the book but due to its focus on children it could be off-putting for the childless reader or simply just a reader looking for something more adult-orientated. It’s true that a great deal of the book looks at adults, but there isn’t the same dedication in those parts as there is this latter section.

However the main area of the book that is an issue is the bias. Although it is obvious that this book will be quite subjective, the way in which Cain pushes for the rights of introverts can be rather strong, even for the introverted reader. Cain does a great job of being balanced and talks of how both personality types are important, but there are occasions where she becomes a bit of a preacher and denigrates extroverts. If this book was targeted only to introverts that wouldn’t be so much of a problem, it would be more of a book for “bigging up” a reader, but as it is plain that the author plans for anyone to find it accessible, these moments of sudden power are not appropriate.

As Americans moved into cities, working with strangers was needed.

The prospective reader may be interested to know that besides the obvious focus on the artistically inclined – the writer who holes themselves up in their study – there is a great deal of time spent on famous figures in technology, science (this beyond those conducting experiments), and politics. Thus the book would appeal to people who look up to the various leaders in computing, and there is time spent documenting the lead up to black freedom.

Quiet is quiet by nature, but the book has its loud moments. It may not always be objective but at least the intentions of the author make understandable, if not quite acceptable. The few quizzes in the book allow those on the fence to find out who they are in the context of the material. It’s true that there is some repetition in the book, phrases and ideas repeated more than a couple of times, but overall the product is a success. The book will appeal to anyone who considers themselves, well, quiet, shunned by their peers and interested in changes. It will also appeal to teachers looking for insight, and also extroverts – as long as the bias doesn’t put them off (this is the reason the bias is such an issue, because this sort of book needs to be accessible to all). Will it change the world? Who knows? But it might just change a life or two.

I received this book for review from Crown Publishers.

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Laurie C

February 4, 2013, 11:26 am

I wonder if most people fall in the middle of the two extremes of quiet and loud. Introversion/extroversion isn’t an either-or, I would think, unless you’re at one extreme or the other. I’ve been meaning to read this one, but haven’t gotten to it yet. Thanks for the detailed review!


February 4, 2013, 11:55 am

I shunned this book in the library the other day, but only because my to-read list for February is FULL. It sounds like a very interesting book but when I looked at it I wondered if some parts are a bit dry.

You seemed to have enjoyed it a lot, so I will put it on my wishlist for another month.

Rebecca @ Love at First Book

February 4, 2013, 1:54 pm

I’m reading this right now!!! I’m super excited about it, but I’m still at the near beginning.


February 4, 2013, 2:05 pm

I am so curious about this book! There are so many times when I want to be alone, when I don’t want to answer the phone…etc. I always feel like I have to make up some grand excuses for just wanting some alone time.

Literary Feline

February 5, 2013, 7:51 pm

I have a copy of this book waiting for me on my Nook. It’s a subject I studied in college–at least to a small degree. So, I’m familiar with the concepts. I am an introvert and it’s still too early yet to tell with my daughter, I think.

I am glad to hear you enjoyed it!


February 5, 2013, 8:53 pm

I’ve heard so many good things about Quiet. I have noticed that books of this type push their agenda strongly, but it’s good to know that the bias doesn’t ruin the read.


February 5, 2013, 8:58 pm

I’m definitely an introvert and I found this book really interesting. I totally agree with you that she sometimes pushes for the introverts a little too much, revealing her own bias, but the whole thing was fascinating and taught me a lot about myself and the world.


February 6, 2013, 4:34 pm

Hi Charlie – I found my way over here via your comment on Helen’s Richard III post and was interested to see that you’d reviewed this: I spotted a few lines about it in the Evening Standard the other week and thought it sounded rather intriguing. Like Meghan above, I’m an introvert and I suppose part of the appeal derives from a desire to have myself explained a little. Your thoughts are very helpful – it does sound a bit dry and perhaps more academic than I’d been anticipating (and perhaps more focused on US than UK culture?). Hmm. Still on my list but perhaps one to read if I stumble across a second-hand copy, rather than one to seek out.

But thank you so much for this, and I’m delighted to have found your blog.

Andrew Blackman

February 6, 2013, 10:17 pm

This one sounds interesting! I have seen a few articles and books about quietness and introversion lately – maybe it’s time for an introvert revolution :-) Not sure what that would look like…


February 7, 2013, 12:18 pm

Andrew – it would probably be very apologetic and well-mannered :-)

jenn aka the picky girl

February 7, 2013, 8:17 pm

This is such a thoughtful review of this book. I’ve wanted to pick it up for ages but just haven’t had an opportunity. I’m most definitely an introvert. It’s odd, though, that she seems to call out the extroverts. I certainly don’t have anything against people who aren’t like me.

But it is comforting to know you’re not the only one. People seem surprised when I tell them how much energy it takes for me to be around other sometimes. Just because you’re an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t be fun!


February 8, 2013, 1:19 am

Great review, Charlie. I loved this book overall and found it very insightful, especially with regard to personal understanding and advice on supporting introverted children. Agree with you that the advocacy message could occasionally detract from the otherwise very thoughtful and thought provoking nature of the book, but well worth reading regardless.


February 9, 2013, 12:02 am

Laurie: You know, that’s what I came to think. When I started the book Cain’s words were compelling, but you do wonder if there is too much focus on the divide. Yet she does frequently address the middle section, as it were. To be honest, I started the book believing I was one thing and ended it feeling differently so yes, it’s not an either/or in all cases. I recommend it a great deal :)

Judith: This is where I feel I should say “phew”, but then even if you shunned it because you didn’t want to read it obviously it won’t work for everyone. It can be a little dry, but the subject matter helps it get back to interesting sections pretty quickly. I think you should :)

Rebecca: In which case I’m looking forward to your review :)

Jennifer: What you’ve said, I have to say “this!” There is this “thing” where you feel you’re expected (and generally are) to make excuses. I wonder if the expectation is less the more you are towards one of the extremes rather than the middle.

Literary Feline: Interesting that you studied it in college, I’m guessing psychology lessons? It’s good it’s being studied. Reading it made me wonder about my nephew, I think he’s set in his ways now, so to speak (that makes him sound so old!) but you never know how things will change. Hope you enjoy it, too :)

Liviania: Yes, I’m starting to see that strong agendas are often the case in these books. Though it’s understandable. I think it’s the way it’s biased, how it’s easy to tell what is biased and that it’s personal that makes it okay.

Meghan: It’s such a simple book in a way but it does really makes you think. I wonder how it would’ve been if the bias hadn’t been so personal, if it wasn’t so obvious she was wanting things to change for herself.

Leander: Hi! Yes, it is everywhere at the moment, at least it seems so. To be honest, since reading it I’m not so sure where I fall on the scale (maybe I thought too much), but that was a big part of my wish too, the explanation, and also the confirmation that’s it’s alright. Yes, there are a lot of US references but it’s inclusive, easy enough to read as a Brit. I’m glad to meet you in return :)

Andrew: An introversion revolution, that’s quite something to think about. We’d either go back in time somewhat or create something completely new. I once went to a church on the continent where they had a people saying “shhh” on a loop. That’s what comes to mind.

Leander’s idea is sound :)

Jenn: Thanks :) I think in real life she’s probably not so forceful, and I doubt she wanted to come across that way in the book, but her drive has made it so. A big part of the draw of the book is surely wanting to feel less alone, and it reminds you of the obvious really, that that’s never the case (it just seems so). Indeed, being fun doesn’t mean being an extrovert, you can be either and have fun. I guess energy for socialising isn’t something enough people understand. In a way I personally regret not going out on weekends more, and yet I don’t, because I remember how exhausted I was by the end. It does take a lot of energy; I wonder if being quiet, reading or similar, takes energy from extroverts in some way.

Jennifer: Thanks :) The personal understanding was good, the advice for children very important. They are the future, as the saying goes. I wonder, you know, if the book’s message would’ve made even a stronger bias easy enough to read.



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