Secular Shelf Life with Sarah Allen: Quiet (book review)

The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t
Stop Talking
By Susan Cain
Penguin.368 pages. £8.99
ISBN 978 0 307 352 156

Do you prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities?

If you answer ‘yes’ to this and 15 other questions at the beginning of Susan Cain’s best-selling book, then you are probably an introvert. Maybe you didn’t need Mrs. Cain to tell you this, but I did and I was genuinely surprised! Then I thought about how my friends and family members would answer the questions, and, another surprise, I reckon that they would all be introverts. Hmmmm…

Many topics

Susan Cain ranges over many different topics, from the rise of self-help books through to MBAs, education and the phenomenon which is Willow Creek. In all these areas she identifies a common practice: privileging the extrovert and ignoring the introvert. Seemingly endless psychological studies are brought out, all of which seem to indicate both the superiority of introverts and also the biological roots of introversion. To demonstrate how unfair this is, Cain lists the many successful leaders who all happen to be introverts, citing Eleanor Roosevelt, Al Gore and Bill Gates. Sure, she acknowledges nurture can enhance or tone down our basic personality, but introversion or extroversion is part of our DNA, and it has evolved that way for a purpose; it makes you a more reflective, empathetic and cautious person, which is a necessary contrast to the risk-taking, rather shallow, extrovert. Stereotyping? Certainly. Some useful insights? Certainly.

My major concern, however, is not the US context or the excessively broad brush conclusions, but the emphasis on personality at all. Susan Cain starts by showing how our culture moved from a focus on character to an obsession with personality in the early 20th century. This is the problem with the book. Our God-given personalities are only the starting point for the transforming, character building work of God.

Sarah Allen is a secondary school English teacher, and is currently involved in evangelism and women’s work at Hope Church, Huddersfield.


This article was first published in the February 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057