Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Quiet, Susan Cain

Category: Nonfiction: Science: Psychology/Personality

Synopsis: An in-depth study of introversion, its benefits, and how to succeed in life, not in spite of it, but because of it.

Date finished: 26 June 2014

Rating: ****

If I’d taken any longer to write this review, I would have forgotten every last thing I learned while reading this book. As it is, I don’t remember much. Which would seem to not bode well. And although some of that has to be the book’s fault, I’ll take partial responsibility. This book didn’t bore me, and it didn’t make me roll my eyes. It made me think, but it didn’t entirely stick with me. It was one part comfort in a now-I-know-I’m-not-alone sort if way, one part scientific analysis of human personality and character, and one part self-help.

So let’s break it down.

First, I’d been told by approximately eleventy million people that I needed to read this book. I guess they’d already (correctly) decided I was an introvert. Like most other folks who read it and reported back, I found myself again and again in Cain’s descriptions of introverts. Prefer one-on-one to group activities? Check. Enjoy solitude? Check. Prefer to write than speak? Check. Prefer staying in and reading a book to going to a party? Oh, so Check. So, this book was like going home—only in this home everyone understood me and didn’t judge my quietness or ask me to change. That is enormously valuable.


But, it wasn’t new to me. I knew I was this way. I knew other people didn’t get it. I knew others thought it was an unusual way to live. I knew that other people wanted me to change to make life easier for them or because they thought I’d be happier. None of it is new. What’s new is “blaming” it on introversion and other’s responses to it on extroversion. Because here’s the thing: just as you can find a scientific study to back up any hypothesis, you can find or invent or give undo credence to any “-ism,” too. I don’t like pigeon-holing whole personalities into one “-ism.” And while Cain wasn’t using introversion as a scapegoat, per se, she was using it as her dividing line between “you” and “they.” And it kind of felt false to me. I think my personality has as much to credit to my faith, my growing up on a farm in a tiny Midwest town, my parents’ attitudes about how children (and adults) should behave, and a host of other factors. Perhaps Cain would argue that’s all environment and introvert/extrovert traits are innate, but I don’t really, deep down, buy “innate.”

Second, the scientific analysis. Books that spend too much time presenting studies and data kind of irritate me. There was a little too much of that here for my taste. While it was all relevant and much of it was interesting, and while I knew Cain needed it to prove her point, I guess I just don’t put as much stock in it as most people.

Third, the self-help portion of the book. This was, by far, my favorite part of the book. In part four (the last part) of the book, Cain discusses what introverts can do with what we know about ourselves. The part of this section I found most helpful, oddly, was the chapter for parents raising introverted children. The practical advice therein was worth the whole price of admission.

While I wasn’t blown over or even surprised by this book, I was not disappointed either. It gave me a lot to chew on. The text was well-written, never dry, approachable and applicable. Above all, while supporting introverts, she never made value judgments regarding introverts or extroverts. The book was a “safe place.” The book really was exactly what I expected it to be. But in some odd way, that just didn’t seem like enough.

But, I’m sure it’s not the last we’ll hear from Susan Cain.

Would you recommend this to a friend?


  1. I've been thinking about this book for quite awhile. Somehow it just hasn't surfaced to the top of my TBR yet. I'm not sure that this review bumps it up any for me. :)

    1. I really don't want to discourage you from reading it, but I think after all the tremendous hype, it didn't quite live up. It's probably my fault for waiting so long to read it.