Book reviews: Quiet | Meat Fix | What Matters in Jane Austen

William Leith reviews the new books by Susan Cain, John Nicholson and John Mullan

Quiet by Susan Cain

(Penguin, £8.99) * * * *

Between half and two-thirds of us, says Susan Cain in this elegant study, are extroverts. The rest are introverts. Whether you’re one or the other, she says, is the most important thing about your personality. Extroverts are “gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight”; introverts prefer quiet contemplation. When something is happening, they are not desperate to get involved. Cain, an introvert, tells us about famous introverts – Newton, Einstein, Orwell among them. But introverts have a problem: the world is becoming more extrovert, which is a pity.

Meat Fix by John Nicholson

(Biteback, £8.99) * * *

For many years, John Nicholson was a vegetarian. He ate a “healthy” diet – no meat, very little fat and lots of grains. And yet he was clinically obese. His cholesterol was high. He suffered from acid reflux. He had terrible headaches and felt tired. And then there were, as he puts it in this blokeish, frank book, the “arse-based issues”. Then he started eating meat again. He ate fat. He lost weight. His symptoms abated. He explains why he thinks this happened. Stirring.

What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullan

(Bloomsbury, £8.99) * * *

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If you enjoy her novels you will find this book extremely interesting. Mullan asks, and answers, most of the questions that bugged me. Such as the question of age. In Austen’s world, people were much younger than we might imagine. Take Mr Collins, the comically dull chap in Pride and Prejudice. In the 1940 film he was played by Melville Cooper, who was 44. More recently, a 38-year-old Tom Hollander took on the role. But in the novel he was 25! Over and over Mullan shows us beautifully the relationship between Austen’s world and our own.