Is Great Courage (Im)possible? Thoughts on “John Donne’s People”

Vintage Mod Is Great Courage (Im)possible? Thoughts on John Donnes People

Picture of the Bielski Brigade partisan group who saved the Jews from Lida surrounding regions | Photo Credit:


No man is an island entire of itself; every man  is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;  if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe  is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as  well as any manner of thy friends or of thine  own were; any man’s death diminishes me,  because I am involved in mankind.  And therefore never send to know for whom  the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.  ~ JOHN DONNE

Did you know that political scientists call Holocaust rescuers — that singular group of people who risked their lives and wellbeing to save others — “John Donne’s people”? This is based on the famous poem, above — “Each man’s death diminishes me,/For I am involved in mankind.”

It’s a beautiful appellation for an extraordinary group of people, but I wonder if even it goes far enough. Holocaust rescuers didn’t just involve themselves in mankind — they risked everything for it (including the lives of their children, which is the piece that stops me in my tracks.). I’ve been reading a lot about rescuers lately, and their courage seems impossible.

Yet apparently it isn’t. The book “Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust,” by Eva Fogelman, is filled with stories of John Donne’s people.

What would it take to be one of them?

Have you ever witnessed this level of courage?

Do you know anyone you believe capable of it?

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Are Social Rituals Necessary? Thoughts on Super Bowl Sunday

424260 867658907769 775855313 n Are Social Rituals Necessary? Thoughts on Super Bowl Sunday

Jack Kerouac would rather be writing.

Oh, the Super Bowl. I am always bemused by Super Bowl Sunday, and not just because I’m indifferent (yes, it’s true, I’m afraid I am) to football.

It’s the social ritual of the event that gets me thinking.

This past New Year’s Eve I spent the evening curled up on the sofa with my husband. It was a perfect night. I knew that some years ago, I might have felt guilty about separating myself from the celebrations outside my New York City apartment door. So I was pleased that these days I’m perfectly OK with my homebody ways (and so is my more extroverted husband).

But maybe my preference to stay home on New Year’s Eve is unrelated to introversion. It may have more to do with my feelings toward social ritual. I just don’t care much about birthdays and holiday celebrations. I tend to let the feelings that are supposed to be evoked by these events happen when they will, and trust that I’m going to experience the full range of human emotions and experiences over the course of a year, as opposed to waiting for them to occur on the day the ritual tells me they should.

And I have to admit that I wish that everyone felt this way. Then there wouldn’t be so many obligatory ritualistic events to attend.

Yet I know this is simplistic. Rituals have been too central a part of society, for too many cultures, for too many thousands of years, to dismiss them so casually. Human beings clearly crave them – even humans like me. At weddings, I cry and then I dance. On Yom Kippur, I have felt somber and full of remorse. I love the lights and trees of Christmastime.

But mostly I prefer to mark life’s earthshaking milestones- and the steady progression of time — in unscripted fashion.

What do you think of this? I‘d love to hear about your experiences.

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Books I Couldn’t Put Down | A List by @SusanCain


Oh, to be so engrossed in a book that you’d rather read it than do anything else.

I find this state is not so easy to come by, even for an avid reader like me. So here are some of my favorites in the page-turner category. I’d appreciate if you’d share yours, too!

O80vav6b original Books I Couldnt Put Down | A List by @SusanCainPREP - by Curtis Sittenfeld (novel)

This is an acutely observed look at life inside a New England boarding school, as told from an outsider student from Indiana. I picked up this book the minute I heard about it, because I related to the story line. Like the PREP protagonist, I am not from a preppy background. But I went to Princeton back in the 1980s, when it seemed that all the students were from elite private schools and possessed of a breathtaking savoir faire. I thought my mother had taught me decent table manners, but my classmates had an elegant way of holding their utensils that would forever elude me. They also pursued mysterious passions, like trying out for “crew,” a sport I had never heard of before. I thought they were competing to make extra money washing dishes at the dining hall, and was puzzled by why they needed the cash.

If you’ve ever felt like an outsider in a culture that initially seemed more dazzling than the one you came from (and even if you haven’t!), this book will keep you up at night.


THE SONG OF ACHILLES - by Madeline Miller (novel)

Recently the Wall Street Journal asked me to name my favorite books of 2012, and this novel was at the top of my list. Here’s what I wrote in the WSJ:

“This debut novel, set during the Trojan War, is part page-turner and part history lesson, but most of all it’s an urgent philosophical inquiry into the nature of courage. Ms. Miller asks whether heroes need be superhuman, like Achilles, or whether they can be ordinary, like Achilles’ close friend Patroclus—and all of us who read this beautifully written book.”

Read the rest: Twelve Months of Reading - 50 WSJ Friends Reveal Their Favorite Books of 2012


HAPPENS EVERY DAY - by Isabel Gillies (memoir)

Isabel Gillies is the best of company, and here she tells the most compelling of stories. One day her husband is hanging photographs in the guest bathroom, tenderly documenting the cocoon of their family life. A month later he’s left Gillies and their two young sons for an alluring literature professor. It’s a compelling tale – how could such a thing happen? How will Isabel handle the shock and devastation? What were the fault lines in their marriage? But what really illuminates this book is Gillies’ presence: warm, goofy, and intelligent. Her follow-up book, A YEAR AND SIX SECONDS, which describes her return to single life, is a less compelling story — but I loved it anyway just for the pleasure of her company.


 Books I Couldnt Put Down | A List by @SusanCainINTO THIN AIR - by Jon Krakauer (memoir)

The story of a mountain-climbing disaster on Mount Everest, in which eight climbers were killed during a storm. Krakauer is a first-class writer, and even if you know nothing of mountain climbing, and care even less, you’ll be riveted.

I read this at a transitional period of life, a time when I wasn’t happy with my choices in both love and work, and strangely even though this is a tale of disaster, it had me wanting to fly off to Nepal with crampons strapped to the soles of my feet. I never did take up trekking or climbing, but the very idea that I could showed that life held many paths besides the one I was on.


FLOW - by Mihaly Csizshentmihalyi (psychology classic)

OK, this is not a classic page-turner. But you’ll burn through it anyway for its power to illuminate the kind of life you should be living. Mihaly C. argues that one of the highest states of being is the state of flow – when you’re totally engaged in an activity, riding the narrow channel between boredom and anxiety.

I talk about this book a lot, and try to live by it even more.


Screen Shot 2013 01 21 at 4.19.33 PM Books I Couldnt Put Down | A List by @SusanCainSAILING AROUND THE ROOM - by Billy Collins (or really any of Billy Collins’ poetry collections.)

Collins, who was once the U.S. poet laureate, says he’s an extrovert, but if his poems are any indication, he’s a homebody like me. He writes about exciting things like looking up words in the encyclopedia, and walking to town for a gallon of milk. But he’s charming and insightful, and I love his work so much that when I went into labor with our first child, my husband ran back to our apartment to bring one of Collins’ books to the maternity ward. He thought I should have it while we were waiting for the baby to come. (One of the highlights of participating in TED last year was getting to meet Collins, who also gave a talk, and telling him this story. He said it was a first.)

The Lanyard is one of my favorite Collins poems  – it will speak to you if you’ve ever been a mother – or a son or daughter. Here’s an excerpt:

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

Click here to read the rest.


13785 Books I Couldnt Put Down | A List by @SusanCainTHE ORGANIZATION MAN, by William Whyte, and ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM IN AMERICAN LIFE, by Richard Hofstadter (cultural critiques)

If you have ever felt weird or out-of-step because you like to sit around and think, I can’t recommend these books enough. I read them while researching QUIET. I was trying to trace the history of what I call “The Extrovert Ideal” – the Western bias for people who are bold, alpha, and assertive – and found and devoured these books. (You’ll find them referenced in Chapter 1 of QUIET). They were both written in the middle of the 20th century, a time when Americans were trying to break the shackles of their conformist, Happy Days culture.

So what do these books have to do with our life today? Everything. You’ll see that things haven’t changed as much as we think. This passage from THE ORGANIZATION MAN, critiquing the glorification of groupwork in companies, could have been written today (in fact, I wish I had written it):

‘The most misguided attempt at false collectivization is the current attempt to see the group as a creative vehicle. Can it be? People very rarely think in groups; they talk together, they exchange information, they adjudicate, they make compromises. But they do not think; they do not create.”

richard hofstadter anti intellectualism in american life 1962 734950 Books I Couldnt Put Down | A List by @SusanCain

And then there’s this, from ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM:

“It is a part of the intellectual’s tragedy that the things he most values about himself and his work are quite unlike those society values in him…in the United States the play of the mind is perhaps the only form of play that is not looked upon with the most tender indulgence.”

So there you have it. A list of books that influenced my life. And there are many more! So consider this post…

To be continued…

Oh, and please don’t leave this page until you’ve recommended your own favorite books in the comments below.

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Three Inspiring Introverts from 2012 — and a QUIET Giveaway!

Meryl Streep Three Inspiring Introverts from 2012     and a QUIET Giveaway!

Meryl Streep, one of our favorite introverts of 2012. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Introverts have been changing the world for a long time, from Van Gogh to Charles Darwin to Steve Wozniak.

But revolutionary introverts don’t belong only to history. Quiet people innovate, inspire and educate us every day. Here are three inspiring introverts who made the news in 2012. Do you have others to add to the list?

1.  Tim Cook. The famously charismatic Steve Jobs relied on introverts throughout his career. And when it came time to bequeath the company – his baby – to a new leader, he chose the quiet CEO, Tim Cook.

2. Yannick Agnel. The French swimmer won two gold medals in two days at the London Olympics, prompting Michael Phelps to call him “incredible” and the media to ask, “who is this phenom?” The 20-year-old describes himself as “quite an introvert” and was drawn to the isolation and thrill of swimming.

“In competition, I hear nothing once we start. Then I perceive only the sound of water. Sometimes I go in a trance, and when I touch, it’s like I woke up,” he told the Sunday Morning Herald.

I often hear from introverts who are drawn to solo sports, just like Agnel.

3. Meryl Streep. Her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher – a famous extrovert – in The Iron Lady earned her a third Oscar. And you couldn’t help but love her self-deprecating acceptance speech. “When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, ‘Oh no, oh come on, why her again? You know? But – whatever!”


Quiet pb book jacket Three Inspiring Introverts from 2012     and a QUIET Giveaway!

Pre-order the paperback and receive a QUIET Celebration Kit!

With the start of 2013, I’m excited to announce that the paperback version of QUIET will go on sale January 29!

The softcover is full of bonus content, including a Reader’s Guide, a Recommended Reading List of Introverts in Literature, and resources such as Public Speaking for IntrovertsTips for Parents of an Introverted Child and Tips for Educators.

If you preorder the book between January 7 and January 28, I’ll send you a “Quiet Celebration Kit,” including a signed bookplate, a 2013 QUIET calendar and Quiet stickers.

You may have heard this from other authors you follow, but pre-orders are crucial to a book’s success. The more pre-orders, the more the media pays attention to the ideas in the book. So, if you like the idea of a QUIET Revolution and were planning to buy the paperback anyway … now would be a wonderful time to do it. Just order from your favorite online retailer, fill out this form when you’re done, and we’ll send you the kit. Many thanks!

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To Sell is Human

Pink To Sell is Human

Bestselling author Daniel Pink

You probably wouldn’t expect me to kick off 2013 by recommending a book about sales, but I’ve found that pretty much everything bestselling author Dan Pink writes is funny and fascinating. So too his just-released book, TO SELL IS HUMAN: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.

This is not a book about sleazy car-dealer sales tactics. Pink argues that we all work in sales – “whether we’re employees pitching colleagues on a new idea, entrepreneurs enticing funders to invest, or parents and teachers cajoling children to study, we spend our days trying to move others.” And he’s out to help us spend our days more effectively.

Here are three of my favorite insights from his book:

1. The power of passion and quirkiness: When writers pitch Hollywood executives their ideas for new movies and TV shows, they’re most successful when they show passion, wit, and quirkiness, least successful when they’re too slick and trying too hard.

2. The power of less power: People who have less social power can be effective at sales, because they pay more attention to others’ perspectives and are good at seeing the world through others’ eyes. People with high status can easily slip into egocentrism.

3. The power of rhyming: Did you know that people ascribe more weight to observations made in rhyme?

“Woes unite foes” is more persuasive than “Woes unite enemies.”

“Caution and measure will win you treasure” is more convincing than “Caution and measure will win you riches.”

Crazy, but true.

(Other gems by Pink include “A Whole New Mind” (a book that permanently changed my world-view) and “Drive” (on the surprising truth of motivation). I also enjoy his radio program, “Office Hours,” where I made a guest appearance last January.)

What’s your opinion? Do you think there’s such a thing as humane salesmanship?

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Why I Wish You a Year Full of Surprise

Heschel2 Why I Wish You a Year Full of Surprise

Photo by John Goodwin via

Hi everyone, happy new year!

One of the best side benefits of writing QUIET is having discovered a group of readers who share similar tastes and sensibilities. I’d like to take advantage of this by regularly passing on articles, books, essays, music, podcasts, etc., that have moved me or made me think. Please do the same, and we’ll end up with quite a collection!

For today, here’s the great spiritual leader Abraham Joshua Heschel (via Krista Tippett’s radio program, “On Being” – also recommended to me by a reader.)

“The meaning of life is to treat your life like a work of art. An individual dies when [s]he ceases to be surprised. I am surprised every morning when I see the sunshine again. When I see an act of evil, I’m not accommodated to the violence. I’m still surprised. So I can fight against it.”

Happy new year — and please share your own recommendations!

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Thanks for Making QUIET One of the Best Books of 2012

Oprah 300x145 Thanks for Making QUIET One of the Best Books of 2012

Look for QUIET in O magazine this December!

Dear Readers,

I have so much to be thankful for this season — because of you. QUIET is showing up on many lists highlighting  the best books of the year, and I could not be more grateful. Here’s a look at the good news we’ve just received:

• QUIET ranks in the top three of Amazon’s Best Nonfiction of the Year, alongside Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.

• It’s also one of Barnes & Noble’s Best Books of 2012.

•  The TODAY Show has named QUIET one of the top ten books of the year.

•  People Magazine has named QUIET one of the top ten books of the year.

• has voted QUIET the #1 Best Nonfiction Book of 2012.

•  Brainpickings has chosen QUIET as one of the 10 best Psychology and Philosophy books of 2012.

•  Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life has chosen QUIET as one of the 10 Favorite Books of 2012.

• O, The Oprah Magazine has honored it as one of its 19 Favorite Books of the Year.

• Fast Company Magazine names QUIET #1 Best Business Book of the Year.

800-CEO-Reads names QUIET #1 Favorite Business Book of the Year.

• Library Journal ranks it among the Best Books of 2012 .

• Hudson Booksellers names QUIET one of the Best Books of 2012.

• The Guardian names QUIET one of the best psychology books of 2012.

•  QUIET is one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Nonfiction of 2012

• has named QUIET the Best Nonfiction Book of 2012.

•  Christian Science Monitor has included QUIET in its list of Best Books of 2012.

  Inc. Magazine has named QUIET one of their Best Books for Entrepreneurs of 2012!

•  The Princeton Alumni Weekly has named Susan Cain one of the top five alumni newsmakers of 2012.

•  Inside Higher Ed has selected QUIET the #2 best nonfiction book of 2012.

None of this would be possible without you. Please know that during this holiday season, you have my  gratitude.

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Quiet: The Book

- Wall Street Journal

Bill Gates names "The Power of Introverts" one of his all-time favorite TED Talks.

Best Nonfiction Book of 2012

QUIET has been voted the best nonfiction book of 2012


1. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.

2. Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever.

3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

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