Burgs Sunday book review
Reviewed by Jennifer Poff Cooper of Christiansburg. She is a graduate student at Hollins University.
“The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” is the subtitle that attracted me to Cain’s best-selling book. Cain was a Wall Street lawyer who realized her passion for the quieter pursuits of writing and psychology after much soul-searching. I am an introvert always looking for ways to thrive in our uniquely extroverted American society. This book will solve all my problems, I thought!
However, to be honest, I began the book back in the winter and, after reading 70 pages, abandoned it in favor of escapist fiction, because it read too much like my graduate school textbooks. I promised myself I would pick it up again during a school break. I did, and found Cain’s book was an edifying read, yet it left me wanting more concrete personal advice.
Cain begins by tracing the history of the “extrovert ideal” from the time of our isolated agrarian society, when character was the most important trait, to the industrial revolution, when interactive business made personality become paramount. She then takes on modern trends such as using teams in the workplace, pods in schools, and brainstorming in groups – and explains why they, counter-intuitively, do not work to spark creativity. She uses myriad examples, both from our collective culture and her own interactions, to illustrate her points. Cain employs particularly well the marriage/political team of Franklin (extrovert) and Eleanor (introvert) Roosevelt to demonstrate the implications of this dichotomy that she references throughout the book.
“Quiet” is heavy on science. In this work, Cain synthesizes an impressive body of research. While I found myself skimming some of the denser technical text, for the most part the book is written well and is accessible. Many of the conclusions, however, were familiar to me from previous reading on the subject.
One of the most interesting sections is the comparison of cultural ideas of introversion and extroversion. Cain particularly concentrates on Asian versus Western cultures, interviewing a number of Asian American students about their experiences with the extrovert ideal. This chapter is one of the most convincing in terms of why “soft power” can bring success to the introvert, as it has too many Asian Americans.
Much of the book seems aimed at convincing extroverts to value the positive qualities of introverts when making decisions in business and personal relationships. Yet, it strikes me that very few extroverts would be drawn to even read a book about their polar opposites.
The text is 200 pages in before Cain hits the meat of the self-help portion for introverts. She describes how introverts and extroverts can relate to one another. Information on when introverts should sublimate their innate quietness and become “pseudo-extroverts” – when matters of personal passion are at stake – was helpful. The section on introverted children would be a good read for both parents and teachers of young people. She affirmed some of my strategies, such as taking breaks during social situations, and added some tips to my arsenal, such as arriving at a party early to feel like other people are joining me, “rather than having to break into a preexisting group.”
Cain’s premise is one that deserves publicity as it can help people successfully navigate their worlds, and no previous book on introversion has garnered the attention that Cain’s has. For pure guidance on maximizing one’s potential as an introvert, however, I recommend Elaine Aron’s “The Highly Sensitive Person,” “The Introvert Advantage” by Marti Olsen Laney, and even “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin.
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