This book brings up some interesting, important, and little-discussed ideas about introversion, the greatest of which is that introversion is a valid personality type rather than a flaw which should be corrected.
Cain begins the book in this way, defensively, angrily, which made me realize how many of my own introverted aspects had been demonized to the extent that I denied them even in myself. She talks about how quiet, studious children are ostracized even in school, even by their teachers, who ought to be glad to have attentive children but are instead concerned by the pupil’s lack of social skills.
Cain also goes to the root of the problem, talking about how Dale Carnegie’s book (How to Win Friends and Influence People) in the early twentieth century launched the culture of personality over the culture of character. When every human interaction is viewed through the lens of selling oneself, keeping quiet and attending to ones own affairs becomes something to be overcome. Cool unruffled movie stars become the new heroes, when personality and outward appearance triumph over character and inner life.
Cain explores extroversion. She goes to one of Tim Robbin’s seminars and shouts with the rest of the people who have forked over a lot of dough in order to learn how to take their personality (and their lives) to the next level of extroversion. She goes to one of the mega-churches and has an interview with an evangelical who laments that the life of the mind and the inner sphere have no place in this new idea of God as a social event. She also goes to visit the MBA program at Harvard, which she describes as an extroversion center, where no one ever works alone, and social events are all but mandatory.
Cain doesn’t focus on the traditional, narrow definition of introversion, but a broader spectrum of traits, which include sensitivity, shyness and the ability to concentrate and focus easily on one task. I had no problem with these being grouped together, because from what I’ve seen, they often do go together.
At its best, this book functions as a kind of pep-talk for introverts, reminding us that we’re not defective or antisocial, and in fact, introverts have a great many advantages over extroverts. The greatest example is that you tend to get a lot more accomplished when you’re not out partying. At its worst, it careens from broad stereotype to broad stereotype, some of which contradict one another, such as “Europeans and Americans are more extroverted than Asians and Africans” along with “introverts are often thin, with pale skin and blue eyes.”
I got this book as an audiobook, which I don’t recommend. I did like the speaker (whose name I can’t remember). She had a calm voice, much in keeping with the tone of the novel, and she seemed to pronounce even the most difficult names with fluency. However, the repeated phrases “studies show”,”scientists believe that”,”a recent study indicated that”,”researchers feel that” etc. began to grate on my ear. Also, there were two hours, (hour six and a half to seven and a half and the last hour) which bored the crap out of me. If I had been reading it in paper form, I probably would have skipped or skimmed that part, but you can’t skim an audiobook. The last part of the book deals mostly with how to raise an introverted child, and if I hadn’t been driving, I would have skipped it entirely. I don’t know why it bored me so much, as I have an introverted child, but I couldn’t listen to all of it in one chunk. I had to take a break because of the tedium.
There’s a lot of interesting information here, and while it tries to strike a good balance between entertainment and information, it errs frequently on the side of information. If you’re an introvert, a closet introvert pretending to be an extrovert (like me) or you’re in a relationship with an introvert, this book has some interesting thought points. If you are going to read it, I recommend the book form, so you can flip through when it starts to run on too long.