Quiet by Susan Cain - Book Review

by - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

In recent weeks I've encountered much coverage of Susan Cain's best-seller, Quiet, and was rather curious to learn whether it would live up to my high expectations in the glorification of the world's more underestimated personality type: introverts, "in a world which can't stop talking".

As Susan explains, at least a third of the people we encounter every day are introverts: those who are quiet, contemplative and often very creative. Yet society prizes extroverts (particularly Western cultures); many teachers claim their best students are extroverted, despite research that introverts are more often those who achieve better grades.

So how best do we nurture the huge percentage of our population who are introverts? And how best can those of us who are more quiet learn to embrace our personalities in order to succeed?

Although I didn't always know the term, I've always felt that I'm an introvert. As a child, I was the one who preferred sitting at home reading or penning stories of my own to roaming around the estate with my school friends. My teachers explained to my parents that although I was a capable student, I needed to stop being so shy and learn to speak up in class a little more.

Even when I had several of my poems published in a prestigious compilation, I was mortified at the prospect of being on stage for a recital. Though incredibly proud of my achievement, I was too shy to bask in the glory or accept recognition. If only I'd been able to read Quiet back then...

Throughout Quiet, I took pleasure in recognising many of my own traits, as well as those of my family and close friends. It felt good to not only be validated, but to realise that shyness and the need for solitude are not flaws but simply qualities which, by contrast, are just different to those of extroverts.

More than that, it is not something we can easily change.

A significant element of Susan Cain's book explores studies of sensitivity and the relation to introversion/extroversion. She explains that people with more active amygdalae are more likely to be introverts. The amygdala is the part of the brain which plays a significant role in processing memory and emotional reactions, and generally people fall into one of two groups in regards to how active their amygdala is: high-reactive (those who are more sensitive to stimulation), and low-reactive (those who are less effected).

Studies demonstrate that around 70% of high-reactive infants grow to be introverted adults, proving that sensitivity (and by proxy, introversion) is built-in to our DNA. Potentially, an introvert's strife to change causes more stress and harm than good. Instead, small changes to the ways in which we work and function enable us to embrace our nature and achieve our full potential.

Cain explains how the open-plan structure of many workplaces (and modern classrooms) foster interactivity between staff and make for a communal environment, a situation which introverts find to be stressful and less effective. Those with the loudest voices are the ones whose opinions and ideas are put into action, whether or not they are the best ones. Instead, Cain suggests that each member of a group spend time contemplating on their own before bringing for more thoughtful, varied discussion.

As a parent, I appreciated the chapter titled"On Cobblers and Generals", which offers some pointers on how to recognise - and ultimately, nurture -  an introverted child. This was the chapter in which I discovered so many "Ah-hah" moments of clarity, upon realising that my children exhibited far more introverted traits than I had previously recognised. Case studies in particular were incredibly helpful in helping me understand why my children behave as they do; even more so in offering insight as to how best to make them feel safe, loved and happy.

Would I recommend Quiet? Certainly, yes! Whether you consider yourself to be an introvert and would like to learn more about yourself, or simply want to develop a better understanding of the people you live and work with, this is a truly excellent, eye-opening insight. Admittedly, some of the chapters are a little research-heavy, perhaps because Susan Cain hopes to solidify her arguments in order to champion introverts in a world where extroversion is a prized trait. Personally, I particularly enjoyed the numerous case-studies and references to high-profile introverts which were not only illuminating, they helped me learn the most about both my own introverted nature and how best to nurture those I hold dear.

Having read many reviews of Quiet, I realise most readers are introverts themselves, which is no surprise when we consider the subject matter! However, I would very much like to read reviews by extroverts, to better judge the usefulness of this book in a wider context. If you're an extrovert who has read Quiet or know of such a review, please feel free to let me know in the comments below.

Finally, here's an excellent video of Susan Cain presenting a TED talk on the subject matter of her book:

Reviewed byAmanda Kennedy on February 18th, 2014
Rating: 4/5 
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking is available to purchase from Amazon and other major book sellers.  Disclaimer: I received a copy of Quiet for review purposes, but as always the opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own. I have also included my affiliate links. Thank you for supporting Glamumous!

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