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Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (New York: Crown, 2012), 333pp.Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (New York: Crown, 2012), 333pp.

           American culture privileges what Susan Cain calls the "Extrovert Ideal." Whether hyping yourself on a college application or in a job interview, it is the "man of action" rather than "the man of contemplation" whom society honors. Introverts — about a third to a half of the population, are treated like second-class citizens, says Cain, and their personality traits are considered "somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology." Extroverts are thought to be not only more successful but even better people. Her book tries to correct this mistake.

           Carl Jung popularized the terms "introvert" and "extrovert" in 1921. Cain admits to "definitional complexity." Some of us are "ambiverts" with a little of both traits. The categories aren't as neat and clean as some make them. There are also many different and complex kinds of each type, not to mention other factors like family of origin that make us who we are. Some psychologists even reject the idea of fixed personality traits. Despite these important concessions, most of us agree that there are introverts and extroverts. Our family has one of each.

          Cain combines insights from scientific studies and personal stories to make her point. She visits places like a Tony Robbins seminar ("Unleash the Power!"), Harvard Business School, and Rick Warren's Saddleback megachurch in southern California — all of which, despite their extreme differences, are based upon the Extrovert Ideal. She explores how our neurobiology hardwires our temperaments, whether and how our choices might override our predispositions, how to communicate with people of the opposite type, and how to cultivate introverted kids in an extroverted world. One of her most interesting chapters was on Asian culture, which privileges the quiet and compliant introvert. In the end, the key takeaway of this important book is "a newfound sense of entitlement to be yourself."

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