Here's the book's premise, from the Introduction:
We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal - the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual - the kind who's comfortable "putting himself out there." Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so.Introverts, take heart - Cain is riding to your rescue (or perhaps just quietly sidling up beside you), providing more cures for your feelings of guilt, inadequacy, shame, or discomfort than you'd get from a year of therapy. Extroversion hasn't always been as highly valued as it is in contemporary America, she points out, giving a brief history of Dale Carnegie and others who helped make us a nation of self-marketers. And while extroversion is important, too much Groupthink can dampen creativity and impede progress. Introverts have gifts we ignore at our peril (Cain links the Wall Street crash, for example, to a shortage of introverted thinking).
Introversion - along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness - is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man's world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we've turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.
Cain's observations range widely, from office space (down with the open plan!) to brain chemistry to education. She offers practical advice for the hypersensitive, for those panicked by public speaking, for parents of introverted children, for spouses of opposite personality types. Along the way she reports on research and tells fascinating stories. Though a lawyer by profession, Cain is an excellent journalist.
But much as I enjoyed Cain's writing style, the reason I've been telling everybody to read this book is because so many of my friends are introverts. If they're anything like me, they'll find Cain wonderfully affirming next time they find themselves at coffee hour in a strange church, or next time they have to navigate a giant get-acquainted reception at a convention, or next time the in-service education director brightly says, "OK, folks, let's break into small groups and share ..."