Many introverts feel like they live in an extroverted world. We are often asked to learn in groups, share ideas in brainstorming sessions, and do our work in an open office plan because, well, socialization and collaboration are good, right?
Not always, says Susan Cain in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Between a third and a half of all people are introverts who thrive on, and are most creative in, solitude. In her book, Cain first looks at the Extrovert Ideal: the widespread belief in Western society that we should all aspire to be the charismatic, outgoing, take-charge type—in other words, an extrovert. Then Cain examines the biological background of temperament to explain why introverts are the way they are. In part three, which consists of one chapter, she asks whether all cultures have an Extrovert Ideal. She looks to Asian (particularly Asian-American) culture for an answer. In the final part of the book, Cain is most prescriptive: She tells her readers in what circumstances introverts should act like extroverts, how to communicate with people of the opposite type, and how to raise introverted children in a world that values extroversion more than introversion.
As an introvert, I found this book fascinating and helpful. I like to read about introversion in general because it makes me feel less strange/crazy for enjoying solitude, for being more sensitive than most to external stimuli (like the boisterous group of ladies in the coffee shop where I am writing this, for example), and for clamming up when asked to share something impromptu in a group setting. Cain writes about all of these common introvert tendencies and more in this book. The only part of this book that I found my interest waning was when Cain was talking about various psychological experiments in the section on biology. That isn’t a fault of the book, though; I am simply not as interested in that as I am in stories.
And Cain does make plenty of room for stories about introverts, both famous (Eleanor Roosevelt, Warren Buffett, Gandhi) and otherwise. At the end of this book, while I was still conscious that the Extrovert Ideal is alive and well, I felt that because of books like this one (and the research it describes), now is a good time to be an introvert.