Quiet, by Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,
by Susan Cain
Quiet is Cain’s celebration of introversion. She discusses how America is a world of extroverts and that introverts are encouraged to be extroverts against their personalities. This is a society that does not appreciate introverts. Through interviews and personal experience, she provides scientific and anecdotal evidence that introverts can provide just as much (or more) to society as extroverts. 

I really wanted to like Quiet. Everybody seems to. And at the beginning I did. After all, I’m an introvert, at least I consider myself one despite the personality test that I took in a previous post. And that gets me to my first point. What is an introvert? Cain, and most others, define introverts as people who are drained by interpersonal interaction and need time to rejuvenate after a social situation. Extroverts are charged by socializing. But this is very black and white. What about the people like me who are 57.5% on the extroversion scale? I do need to rejuvenate after too much socialization, but I also seek out social situations. I do not seem to fit in her nice little structure. Cain briefly approaches this issue in her book, but I’m not sure most people care about the difference.

Another issue I had with the book is that it provided so much anicdotal scientific research. Don’t get me wrong. The research was fascinating. I just gobble that stuff up. But then I realized that she didn’t really seem to understand the implication of the research, and therefore the findings she presented weren’t very trustworthy. 

One example is that she discussed an experiment in which people were forced to “smile” by placing a pencil in their mouths. Then they watched a sad video. The people who were forced to smile felt much more cheerful after the video than the people who did not have pencils in their mouths. But later in that experiment, those same people – those who felt better after wearing the pencil – were more likely to react poorly to another sad video than the people who had not been forced to smile during the first video. Thus it s bad to suppress your emotions, because you will feel worse later.  

Then in the same chapter, she talked about another experiment in which people could not produce an angry face because of an injection of Botox. When anger was stimulated, the people who could express their angry-face were left feeling more angry after the experiment than those were weren’t able to express their angry-face.Thus it is bad to express your emotions because you will feel worse later.  

Note the contradiction?  

Another issue that bothered me about this book is her tendency to generalize a small population with the gigantic and diverse continent of Asia. In one study she quoted, the researchers compared the reactions of people from Hong Kong to the people of Israel, and found Israelis more willing to express their emotions. But Cain referred to the people from Hong Kong (a teensy tiny bit of Asia) as “Asians.” She referred to the people of Israel (a slightly larger territory) as “Israelis.” Israel, by the way is in Asia. Before you generalize, Ms. Cain, make sure you know your geography.

The last thing that bothered me about this book is that I felt it praised introverts to point of degrading extroverts. Yes,she continuously pointed out that both were needed, but I think if that were the case, she might have done a better job of showing how both are necessary to have a successful culture.

3 snowflakes for being an interesting read despite the weak points.

The Social Conquest of Earth, by Edward O. Wilson

2012 Book 154: The Social Conquest of Earth

Written by Edward O. Wilson, Narrated by Jonathan Hogan

Reason for Reading: Group read in our LibraryThing “Science, Religion, History” group


In The Social Conquest of Earth, Wilson expounds upon the theories that were set forth in his classic work Sociobiology. His main thesis is that group selection, not kin selection, drove evolution and helped us to develop societies. He compares the way human society developed to the way ant “society” developed (ants are his specialty). He suggests reasons why religion and xenophobia would have originally developed as protective characteristics of groups. This book covers a large swath of material…from ants to human prehistory, to history, to today. I think he did a pretty good job organizing the book considering what a wide topic he was covering. His theories were clear and for the most part convincing. I think Wilson is an atheist, but he did a pretty good job of stating his opinions in an agnostic sort of way to avoid insulting the faithful. The only statement that rather jarred me was when he suggested that there surely exist better ways to find spiritual fulfillment than total submission to God. This statement jarred me because it seemed he was saying that this religious process developed for a reason, but that reason is now obsolete. However, in an earlier chapter, he pointed out that homosexuality developed for a reason, so homophobia is not helpful to society. I wholeheartedly agree with him that homophobia is hateful and ignorant. But it is not particularly scientific to say homosexuality developed for a reason, therefore it’s good…religion developed for a reason, but it’s obsolete now. What are his reasons for deciding one is good and the other is obsolete? His reasons are emotional rather than scientific. But I’m just being nitpicky here. I think the book was well-written, interesting, and approachable by a non-scientific audience. I had no issues with Hogan’s narration–he read the book well, but it wasn’t anything worth raving about.

Religion Explained, by Pascal Boyer

2012 Book 92: Religion Explained, by Pascal Boyer (6/24/2012)

Categories: Other

Reason for Reading: Science, Religion, and History group read with the 75ers

My Review 2/5 stars
The intent of this book is to use anthropology and cognitive science to “explain” why religious beliefs developed (and are still common) in humans. I started reading this book with the expectation that it was intended as popular science; but it assumed that the reader already had a background in anthropology and cognitive science. Boyer made his explanations using terminology that was unnecessarily complex; and although the meaning could be discerned from the context, it made the narrative into very heavy reading. Furthermore, he made many bold statements without providing evidence, possibly because he figured his readers had a background in this area and knew where he was coming from. The examples he did provide often fell short for me as a scientist–I felt there were too many obvious loopholes to the experiments described, and it was unclear whether these loopholes were addressed. Overall, I think this book may be interesting to someone who has already read a lot of literature in this field, but I wouldn’t recommend it to someone with a casual interest, nor as introductory material.

Guns Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond

2012 Book 74: Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond (5/11/2012)

Reason for Reading: This has been on my reading list for years—since before I watched the documentary.

My Review 4/5stars
In this Pulitzer Prize winning book, Diamond attempts to answer the question of why the Western Civilization rose to power instead of other civilizations. His answer is that they lucked out on geography and ecology. Western civilizations were better able to domesticate animals and plants due to the varieties that they had available, and were therefore able to develop larger farming societies, allowing for development of crafts and “scientific exploration.” Also, because they were in larger groups, they were exposed at low levels to many germs, and developed immunity. Because of these factors, they were able to harness the power of guns, germs, and steel in their pursuit of world power. This was a fascinating book, and definitely worth reading even after watching the documentary (reviewed here). It’s just packed full of information, the writing is smooth and articulate, and the research is extensive.