Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain- Book Review

I’d heard quite a bit about this book, which is ironic given it’s title ‘Quiet’, but it’s got some press since it was published in 2013.  The front cover is quite captivating, all in white, including the text it is understated as eye-catching. The full title is ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’, as well as being an exploration of the qualities that introverts have it is about a world, or society, that seems only to celebrate people extroverts who demand attention. The book goes to a great deal of trouble to introduce us to the attributes of introverts, although it’s not exactly rocket science.  If you’re an introvert you’ll be quiet, spend time by yourself happily, think things through, be considered, emotional etc.

The main problem, according to Cain, is that the society we live in (in the West) is geared up to celebrate people who are loud, in-your-face go-getters, who take risks rather than cautiously think things through.  Introverts who need time and solitude to perform at their best are being held back by schools that insist on group work and workplaces that reward extemporaneous presentations or fearless high stakes negotiations.  But Cain points out that without listen to fear or doubt those in charge of high-stakes negotiations often make bad decisions, for example being so focused on out-bidding another company they spend far too much money on unworthy acquisitions.

Cain goes to a Tony Robbins workshop, for those not in the know Tony Robbins is big business in America, in his mid-fifties he earns about $30 million a year.  He is a self-help coach with books called things like ‘Unleash the Power’ and doing a ‘firewalk’ is a part of his seminar to help people conquer their fears.  His workshops cost thousand of dollars and are usually 14hr days without breaks, they involve singing, dancing, and lots of shouting.

I think Cain is using this segment to illustrate how extrovert characteristics are being touted as the only route to success, but she also points out what a money-making enterprise it is with constant up-selling.  At one point Robbins brings out his perfect wife and discusses how awesome she is, and integral to his success, then he advertises his relationship course (also thousands of dollars).  I looked Robbins up and in 2016 several people were hospitalised with bad burns after doing the fire walk.  So many a little fear is a good thing?

Throughout the book Cain does the very American thing of referencing about a billion studies to back up her claims but all the actual references are in the back of the book, instead of in the text or footnotes.  It means we rely on her interpretation of the studies unless you constantly flip to the back of the book to validate everything.  She talks a lot about highly reactive people who react strongly to external stimuli, using some of those studies that she likes to essential prove that being highly reactive is the same as being introverted.  These things were conflated throughout the book which I’m not sure is really the case.  It all, actually, made me wonder if introversion was a real thing, and why we’re so determined to label everything.

I also think she make quite general statements about introverts and extroverts, perhaps inevitably, but everyone sort of gets lumped intogether.  She does make some interesting points about introverts that learn more extrovert behaviour to survive and suceed, but then doesn’t everyone learn what is expected and required of them in the society that they live.  She also seems, maybe to redress the balance, bad mouth extroverts quite a bit.  I feel like this is a reaction to how she has been made to feel in a society that favours the more extroverted among us, but I’m not sure it’s very helpful.