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Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

person with headphones

Introduction:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is a book by Susan Caine. It was published in 2012. It talks about introverts in a world which prefers the loud and daring personalities, and distills the research about the topic of extroverts and introverts into one-book.

Personally, I wanted to read this book as soon as I heard about it, because I myself am an introvert, and I wanted to know what this book has to say about it. if I could get some workarounds for dealing with the loud world, that would be a bonus.

Since this is a non-fictional book, no plot section. Let’s jump to the review.

My review:

The introduction to the book is actually very long. Usually the books I read, they have a brief introduction, but here, Susan takes her time in explaining her book. I don’t consider it a bad thing, though, in particular, since she illustrates her point by showing the experience of a lawyer intern who is an introvert. And of course, this bit:

“Our personalities also shape our social styles. Extroverts are the people who will add life to your dinner party and laugh generously at your jokes. They tend to be assertive, dominant, and in great need of company. Extroverts think out loud and on their feet; they prefer talking to listening, rarely find themselves at a loss for words, and occasionally blurt out things they never meant to say. They’re comfortable with conflict, but not with solitude.
Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”

That describes me to a tee. I do not like small talks, and multiple times I have been chided by my mother for that. Whereas if someone picks up my interest with an interesting topic, then I will talk with them for a long time. granted, I would withdraw at some point, but I will talk with them, instead of giving them monosyllable responses. Also, I do think I express myself better through my writing. If you meet me in real life, you’ll be surprise to find that I’m not as eloquent as I may appear through these articles. (Who am I kidding? I’m not eloquent in even in my writing.)

Let’s move forward. Susan also establishes the difference between shyness and introverts in the introduction, as you can see below.

“Nor are introverts necessarily shy. Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not. One reason that people confuse the two concepts is that they sometimes overlap (though psychologists debate to what degree). Some psychologists map the two tendencies on vertical and horizontal axes, with the introvert-extrovert spectrum on the horizontal axis, and the anxious-stable spectrum on the vertical. With this model, you end up with four quadrants of personality types: calm extroverts, anxious (or impulsive) extroverts, calm introverts, and anxious introverts. In other words, you can be a shy extrovert, like Barbra Streisand, who has a larger-than-life personality and paralyzing stage fright; or a non-shy introvert, like Bill Gates, who by all accounts keeps to himself but is unfazed by the opinions of others.”

Susan continues this point later, explaining that introvert people spend their time on behind-the-scenes pursuits like inventing, researching, or actually being with ill people. But since the world is enamored with outgoing alpha types, no one pays attention to them. Which to be honest,
I prefer things to be. I don’t have a problem taking credit for my work, but I don’t want the public attention which comes with it. It is likely going to interfere with my thoughts, and I’ll end up losing my focus.

If you are not certain where you fall on the introvert / extrovert / ambivert spectrum, there is a test in this book to find that out. There are 20 questions to which you must answer true or false as they apply to you. At the end of this review, I’ll take that test myself, and give you the answers to those questions. Of course, this isn’t a strict scientific test, but I somewhat enjoy these things from time-to-time. Also, Susan is honest about the fact that not everything may apply to you in Quiet if you’re an introvert. Because not every introvert is the same.

The first chapter after this lengthy introduction, starts off with Dale Carnegie, and how he influenced self-help in the 20th century. Self-help existed before him, but it changed in the 20th century. I noted in my thoughts on How to Win Friends and Influence People, that though the book offers simple advice like be nice to others, that advice is deceptively hard to apply, particularly for people with prickly dispositions like me. And naturally, Susan actually agrees. These qualities are not easy to acquire, no matter how much easier Dale Carnegie made it look.

Another point to consider is that with the spreading of American culture after World War II, every other country seems to expect these same qualities, which are not compatible with their culture or their natural way of life. After all, what works in America isn’t necessarily going to work in India or China, or any other country you can think of. Hell, Britain and the US already have a different way of doing things, even though they share the common language.

Anyway, I’m sure there are other, and more eloquent people who can talk about this topic, so instead of embarrassing myself further, let’s move on.

I’m really glad that I didn’t go to school in the America of the 30s and 50s. With all those teachers and parents forcing me to socialize, I don’t think it would have ended well for me, coupled with my blindness.

In chapter two, Susan writes about her experience in Tony Robbins’s seminar, to observe the extrovert ideal. During this seminar, for four days from 8am to 11pm they will be doing all sorts of activities to “Unleash the power within.” I got tired just by reading all the time. I think Susan deserves praise for actually going through something like this to actually understand the extrovert ideal. I would have given up in the middle.

For a moment, let’s talk about writing. Susan describes in lush detail how everyone is behaving, how is the place of this seminar, and how Toni Robbins looks like while welcoming people into his seminar. In the middle of reading this whole description, I realized something. I wouldn’t ever have description skills like these, because I can’t see; therefore, I can’t describe anything in detail.

Susan also digs deep into the physiology of introverts and extroverts, and though I kind of understood the research on a surface level, I am no expert in brain physiology, so I won’t talk about it much. Instead, I will talk about the pair of introverts and extroverts, as the example of President Franklin and his wife Eleanor Roosevelt exemplifies. Of course, Susan uses her own relationship as an example, and she writes about her experiences when she went on a camp with other introverts. She describes how she craved the balance of extrovert people in that camp.

Chapter seven of the book focuses on how giving people who take higher risks for higher rewards more capital end up in something like 2008, and as a reader from 2020s, I like to say that world has learned nothing from that whole mess. Naturally, extroverts are said to be cravers of high rewards, and therefore they take risks.

This isn’t to say that introverts don’t get carried away. But chances of an extrovert getting carried away with potential rewards are higher as opposed to an introvert. Case in point, previous year, I fell in the trap of gamification of Duolingo. Instead of focusing on learning Japanese, I started to think of it competitively. I wasn’t learning anything, since human brain has the limited capacity of learning things in one day. but I still completed lessons to compete with other people, and gain higher ranks by earning more experience points.

Thankfully, I realized it quickly enough, when my mistakes started to pile up. I slowed down, and my Japanese learning is back to where it is supposed to be. This example I have used here, to illustrate that yes, introverts can and do get carried away. So if you’re an extrovert, don’t feel bad (or spread hate in my comment section.)

However, it is pretty strongly implied that that introverts see the dangers sooner, and when they do point them out, extroverts should listen to them. aside from the 2008 crash example, another example is used, this time talking about scientists who warned about climate change. They were ignored because they were introverts, and couldn’t communicate the danger properly, or more like, they couldn’t shout at the level of extroverts. Just imagine if people listened about this issue in 60s and 70s, the world would have been a better place… maybe.

I personally like the analogy of rubber with introverts. If you are an intervert, you can stretch your personality to some extent, this will be different from person to person. But you can do it. However, it has its limits. Over stretch, and you’ll snap like the over-stretched rubber band.

The final few chapters focus on relationships between couples of introvert and extroverts, and parent-child relationship between introverts and extroverts. At the very end, the book provides a very nice conclusion, where the whole book is summarized, if you are not patient enough to read the whole book.

Is this book worth reading?

I think yes, it is worth reading 100%. Introverts should read it to better know themselves, and to learn the tactics to deal with the world which is built for the extroverts and by the extroverts. extroverts should read it, to manage the introverts, because you will encounter them in your life, either professionally or even romantically. If you knew about their tics in advance, it would be much easier for you to deal with them, instead of putting them in the antisocial bin, and not giving them a second thought.

So it doesn’t matter on which side you fall on the introvert / extrovert scale. Read this book, because extroverts can also learn a thing or two about themselves by reading this book.

Susan Caine also appeared recently on the podcast with Lex Fridman, so you can listen to her talk here.

Now, as promised, here are the answers to the questions for the test to check how much introvert or extrovert you are from the book:

  1. 1. _______ I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities. (Yeah, I rather talk to one person instead of getting lost in the sea of conversation. Because I do not have the capacity to scream louder.)
  2. 2. _______ I often prefer to express myself in writing. (Yes, if I could have it my way, I will never talk to someone at work, just exchange emails and progress reports.)
  3. 3. _______ I enjoy solitude. (Yes, I do like to be alone.)
  4. 4. _______ I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame, and status. (I don’t care about the fame or status, and I’m happy as long as I’m making enough money to live comfortably and without relying on others for monitory support, even though I do ask for people to buy me coffee. (No one has bought me one yet.))
  5. 5. _______ I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in depth about topics that matter to me. (Yes, and as a result, I’ve been labeled as antisocial, and even hostile, on one occasion.)
  6. 6. _______ People tell me that I’m a good listener. (Assuming if I do get in contact with them, they do tell me that.)
  7. 7. _______ I’m not a big risk-taker. (Yes, I rather not rush into a situation without a plan.)
  8. 8. _______ I enjoy work that allows me to “dive in” with few interruptions. (Yes, that is why I like activities like programming or writing.)
  9. 9. _______ I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale, with only one or two close friends or family members. (Yes, I’m not inviting anyone on my birthdays, if I have any control over it. and please for the love of god, stop trying to take pictures by putting the cake in my mouth, and pausing for a long time until your stupid photo is taken. I will bite you as a result. Consider yourself warned.)
  10. 10. _______ People describe me as “soft-spoken” or “mellow.” (Yes, though I’m not as soft-spoken as the author of this book, but I prefer not to raise my voice unnecessarily.)
  11. 11. _______ I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until it’s finished. (Yes, because then they can’t say that I never finish a thing.)
  12. 12. _______ I dislike conflict. (Yes, why can’t we live peacefully in this world?)
  13. 13. _______ I do my best work on my own. (Yes, because other people distract me, while thinking they are actually helping me.)
  14. 14. _______ I tend to think before I speak. (Yes, each word and the tone to deliver that word is evaluated carefully before it comes out of my mouth.)
  15. 15. _______ I feel drained after being out and about, even if I’ve enjoyed myself. (Yes, though I don’t enjoy myself when I go out much. enjoyment is very rare in outside world for me.)
  16. 16. _______ I often let calls go through to voice mail. (No, I don’t do that. I pick the calls, because I know I have the option of disconnecting it whenever I like.)
  17. 17. _______ If I had to choose, I’d prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled. (Yes, because the weekend is supposed to be relaxing, and lazing, not to do even more work.)
  18. 18. _______ I don’t enjoy multitasking. (Yes, because human brain is bad at it, and when you do too many things, you are actually doing nothing.)
  19. 19. _______ I can concentrate easily. (Just give me ten minutes, and I can concentrate on a task, if it is deep enough to interest me.)
  20. 20. _______ In classroom situations, I prefer lectures to seminars. (As long as I’m not called to answer, I’m fine attending those. Although, my preference is still reading a book instead of attending a class.)

I don’t know why every question has those underlines “_”, so I have ignored them. but the answers in parenthesis is the way I feel. I hope you liked this review, go read this book.

Follow me on Twitter, and buy me a coffee if you like my reviews. If you’ve visited the page, then tell me what is lacking there in the comments, even if you don’t buy me a coffee.

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Published by Tanish Shrivastava

I'm a guy who likes programming, chess, and writing.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

  1. I’ve always known I was an introvert. No doubt about that. And I’ve always heard of this book, which reminds me I should read it. With your wonderful summary though, maybe I won’t need to.

    Also cool to see her on Lex’s podcast. Didn’t know she appeared. I’m guessing you already listened to the Botez sisters’ one, which was interesting to me. Loved learning about the street chess hustlers in USA who learned the game on their own.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hustlers in US exist in every sport it seems, whether it be catch wrestling of old, or chess in current times.

      Also, happy to find another listener of Lex’s podcast! Did you hear when Magnus Carlson appeared?

      Thanks for the comment, Stuart!

      Like

  2. Thanks for your comprehensive review Tanish. I hadn’t read Quiet ( and feel though I don’t have to after your thorough review ) but I have recently gobbled up her latest Bittersweet which I really loved. If interested.

    Liked by 1 person

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