I don’t like David Brooks. When I watch PBS and someone turns to him with a question, I cringe. Knowing he is an orthodox Jew doesn’t help at all- His conservative critical view informs my gut that this is not the guy I would chose to represent the tribe. With that caveat, I was intrigued and decided to listen to his 2011 book The Social Animal when it showed up as one of my suggested books on my phone. As surprises go, I thoroughly enjoyed the listen.
Brooks follows an imaginary couple, Harold and Erica, from childhood to retirement. In the process he weaves in everything. For example: from IQ to the unconscious, toddler development to school discipline, and management fads to modern political campaigning.
Brooks sets out to prove that success and happiness depend on the inner unconscious realm of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, genetic predispositions, character traits and social norms. He supplies section after section of evidence that our lives and conduct are not in our control and that morality, politics and all life goals will only improve by bringing these unrecognized influences into conscious thought.
I read some reviews of the book that are critical of Brooks- apparently there are lots of studies falsely quoted- but I wouldn’t let that be a reason to stay away from the book. There is much to ponder about our socialness that doesn’t depend on studies and statistics.
Brooks has a new book: The Road To Character that takes us one-step further with a look at real people and a means to make some of the changes for ourselves he simple comments on in The Social Animal. I must admit, although I don’t like him any more, I was glad to see that he recognizes his personal character flaws in his introduction: “I wrote this book to save my own soul.” Get them both.