The Unquiet Introvert : First Impressions

I’ve begun reading (at last) Susan Cain’s “Quiet”.  I’m only a few chapters in – so I have little to say about it right now, other than my first impressions.  I’ll probably come back to discussing both ideas in the book, and related ideas it has raised in my mind as I continue to progress through it.

I can’t help but feel, on reading this book, that Susan Cain feels she is treading som new ground by writing about introverts.  Maybe she is.  Maybe this is the first popular book about introverts which isn’t designed for introverts – I’m not sure.  But in basing the core of her book on explaining that introverts are not like extroverts for a very particular reason – and that this makes things hard for introverts – which is a shame because introverts have a lot to offer – Cain is only really covering ground from books like “The Introvert Advantage” – a number of which clutter my bookshelves.

Indeed my feeling in reading this book is that Susan Cain is trying to be to introverts what Malcolm Gladwell is to connectors, salesmen, mavens, people who have good hunches, experts and (probably I haven’t read it) dogs with eyes.  Unfortunately, Cain isn’t as good a story teller.  She introduces lots of interesting ideas, but they feel to me more of a mishmash of things you might like to know about introversion rather than leading us towards a big reveal – if she is leading us towards something big, there is at least a flaw in the disjointed nature of the things she is writing about.

The book does go deeper into the science than many of the other books in this subject I have read – and I’m particularly interested int he neurophysiology sections that she describes.  I’m less happy with the fact that every so often, Cain stumbles across a hard question (nature or nurture : does brain activity tie us into behaving in a particular way, or does our brain activity reflect the way we have learned to act?  Why do some highly sensitive children not turn out to be introverts?), she doesn’t seem to press harder to find an answer – or to find out why the scientists researching this don’t know the answer.  I’m even left feeling that her descriptions of papers might be lacking some details which are important to understand why the papers lead to the conclusions they do. I’m going to have a reading list of papers (or at least abstracts of papers) to go through before I’m happy I’ve learned the things this book should have been telling me.  Unfortunately, I think all of this is probably symptomatic of someone with an arts education finding themselves stumbling into scientific journalism – almost as bad as someone with a mathematical education trying to write book reviews.

So far, I’m glad I’m reading the book, and it feels far less of an attack on extraverts, and far more about they hows and whys of introversion than her TED talk did. I also have far fewer problems with the “Are you an introvert” test as presented within the book, than as it was presented on the Guardian website – though I would note that my hugely extroverted wife scored only 5 (suggesting that no extravert feels they can agree with all the extraverted statements she offers) while I scored 19 and another friend scored 20 (suggesting that introverts do find themselves easily able to arrive at the bottom end of the scale), suggesting there may be some bias towards getting readers to identify themselves as introverts… or again a lack of statistical understanding on Cain’s part.

Given the huge media splash this book has made, I would be very intrigued to see Susan Cain’s ideas about self promotion and PR for introverts.  There might be a follow up for her int hat area!

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