A deeply perceptive and beautifully written cultural history of shyness, from one of our most astute observers of the everyday
Shyness is a pervasive human trait: even most extroverts know what it is like to stand tongue-tied at the fringe of an unfamiliar group or flush with embarrassment at being the unwelcome center of attention. And yet the cultural history of shyness has remained largely unwritten—until now.
With incisiveness, passion, and humor, Joe Moran offers an eclectic and original exploration of what it means to be a “shrinking violet.” Along the way, he provides a collective biography of shyness through portraits of such shy individuals as Charles Darwin, Charles Schulz, Glenn Gould, and Agatha Christie, among many others. In their stories often both heartbreaking and inspiring and through the myriad ways scientists and thinkers have tried to explain and “cure” shyness, Moran finds hope. To be shy, he decides, is not simply a burden; it is also a gift, a different way of seeing the world that can be both enriching and inspiring.
Joe Moran is professor of English and cultural history at Liverpool John Moores University. His previous books include On Roads: A Hidden History, which was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize.
"In a narrative that telescopes from antiquity to our own day, [Moran] touches on, among other things, horses and humming, illness and Italy, laughter, letter writing, and lighthouses. His encyclopedic sensibility recalls the expansive musings of Thomas Browne. . . . Mr. Moran argues that shyness can deepen perspective. . . . Ultimately he concludes that shyness, far from an aberration, might in fact be the most natural response to the riddle of existence."—Danny Heitman, Wall Street Journal
“Wonderful, . . . a sweeping work of history and anthropology and sociology. . . . Moran, in his book, has summoned insights from the ancients to their successors.”—Megan Garber, Atlantic
"An absolute pleasure . . . so good at what it does that you finish wishing it were longer. . . . It’s a trim and tidy 230-odd pages and I wish I could convey just what a quiet pleasure it is to read."—Alex Balk, The Awl
"A splendidly quirky book."—Robert Fulford, National Post (Canada)
"This remarkable compendium of shyness, vivid and insightful, provides both a history of diffidence and a compelling account of its cultural and psychological complexity. Whether discussing embarrassment, stammering, stage fright, or reticence, Moran considers the impact of shyness on creativity and its myriad contributions to fiction, art, and music. Beautifully written, appealingly candid, and thoroughly engaging, Shrinking Violets deserves a very wide readership."—Christopher Lane, author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness
"Joe Moran has an eye for exploring realms of human existence that usually go unnoticed. Shrinking Violets is an intriguing, poignant, and passionate story about shyness in humans and animals. I was captivated from start to finish."—Joanna Bourke, author of What it Means to be Human
"This is a probing, surprising, and continually alert book about a feeling that is well-known—even when it doesn't want to be—yet almost never discussed. Moran, with beautifully shaped prose, ruminates on cultural attitudes to, and representations of, shyness. He is generous about his own shyness, and forensically alert to what being shy more generally means and what it doesn't. Shyness is just there, he concludes: loaded with potential interpretations but not defined by them. Examining a huge amount of cultural material—from sociological reports to popular music, from Virginia Woolf to Desert Island Discs--Moran is the razor-edge analyst of reticence, a virtuoso reader of those who hope to evade the eye."—Francis O'Gorman, author of Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History
"Joe Moran shines a light here on the phenomenon of shyness. . . . The author's lightness of touch belies some profound insights into human nature, from the strange science of blushing, to the inherent fragility of our social roles."—Laura Garmeson, Financial Times
"Joe Moran's excellent Shrinking Violets is an invitation to enter the strange and wonderful world of shyness, an emotion experienced by everyone from Charles Darwin to Japanese teenagers. Whether you're boldly outgoing or reticent and self-effacing, you'll find something to inspire, inform, or surprise in this thoughtful, beautifully written, and vividly detailed cultural history."—Susan Cain, best-selling author of Quiet and co-founder of Quiet Revolution
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