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Whenever my sister Shirley recommends a book, I read it at once.

The first time, long ago, she handed me a white-covered paperback and said, "opening paragraph." I perused it and kept going. When I turned the page, she said, "I couldn't stop either."

The book was Catcher in the Rye.

Shirley sent me an email last week: "Susan Cain's Quiet is amazing."

It is. Subtitled The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, the book builds an impressive case for the one-third to one-half of humanity that prefers the spotlight to shine elsewhere.

Cain (pictured) starts with the stereotype. Introverts are: painfully shy, withdrawn, anti-social (even misanthropic), and so on. These traits, which our culture treats as negatives, conjure up the image of a hermit, curled in the womb position, shunning the madding crowd.

But, Cain says, "probably the most common - and damaging - misunderstanding about personality type is that introverts are antisocial and extroverts are pro-social. But neither formulation is correct; introverts and extroverts are differently social."

Introverts can be outgoing, can enjoy parties and other group gatherings, "but ...they prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family.

"They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation."

These natural tendencies go against what Cain calls the "Extrovert Ideal: the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight."

The dominant culture favors those who cry "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead." Charismatic audacity reigns in movies, TV, and advertising, which often sells consumers the promise of a more winning personality.

Quiet's about those who ask, "Torpedoes?"

They have a power too, says Cain, albeit a quiet one. They observe, remember, and compare. The book doesn't substitute one stereotype for another. It explores a diversity of possibilities. Introverts also leap, but first they look below.

Cain's primary example, Rosa Parks, was an "introvert" who said few words but changed American history.

Using scores of well-chosen stories, anecdotes, and mountains of research, the book attempts to create space in the culture for those who drawn to the inner life. "The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you've been granted."

Cain says she isn't trying to topple the Extrovert Ideal. But in a soft-spoken, thoughtful style - she confesses to being an introvert - she has written an insightful, possibly paradigm-nudging critique of our culture.

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Comments

mstcroix March 11, 2012 @ 6:40 a.m.

Every grammar school teacher in the country needs to read Quiet.

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Ruth Newell March 11, 2012 @ 8:35 a.m.

This sounds right up my alley, and frankly, long overdue. Thanks for sharing.

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