With unequaled insight and brio, David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and best-selling author of Bobos in Paradise, has long explored and explained the way we live. Now, with the intellectual curiosity and emotional wisdom that make his columns among the most read in the nation, Brooks turns to the building blocks of human flourishing in a multilayered, profoundly illuminating work grounded in everyday life.
This is the story of how success happens. It is told through the lives of one composite American couple, Harold and Erica - how they grow, push forward, are pulled back, fail, and succeed. Distilling a vast array of information into these two vividly realized characters, Brooks illustrates a fundamental new understanding of human nature. A scientific revolution has occurred - we have learned more about the human brain in the last 30 years than we had in the previous 3,000.
The unconscious mind, it turns out, is most of the mind - not a dark, vestigial place but a creative and enchanted one, where most of the brain's work gets done. This is the realm of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, genetic predispositions, personality traits, and social norms: the realm where character is formed and where our most important life decisions are made. The natural habitat of The Social Animal.
Drawing on a wealth of current research from numerous disciplines, Brooks takes Harold and Erica from infancy to school; from the "odyssey years" that have come to define young adulthood to the high walls of poverty; from the nature of attachment, love, and commitment, to the nature of effective leadership. He reveals the deeply social aspect of our very minds and exposes the bias in modern culture that overemphasizes rationalism, individualism, and IQ. Along the way, he demolishes conventional definitions of success while looking toward a culture based on trust and humility.
©2011 David Brooks (P)2011 Random House Audio
"An uncommonly brilliant blend of sociology, intellect and allegory." (Kirkus)
Finally someone, if not laying out the solution, has written something about the real causes of the unequal access to opportunity in our world. And that it can't all be fixed by throwing money at any one thing. He follows two individuals from polar opposite backgrounds - who eventually join to become a couple - through the course of their lives. One person is from an educated background of privilege, the other is from a multicultural environment of poverty, dislocation and stress. What they both have in common is an intuitive grasp of how to make the decisions which will bring the best outcomes. Each person in tuned in to his/her unconscious (or subconscious?) layer of perception, which has nothing to do with their conscious layers of rational thought - but the two combine to bring success in school, good grades, success in a career, money, accolades. etc. Brooks' thesis is that we have two layers operating in our minds/brains/souls. One is conscious, or rational, the other is unconscious, or emotional. And we are of course mostly unaware of this unconscious layer and how it informs our life choices.
Both these characters lead very successful lives, though as Brooks points out, they are not on the top of any scale of IQ numbers, or list of SAT scores, nor are they "connected" through family in any way. While attractive and pleasing to look at, neither one is "drop dead gorgeous". But their lives are full and rich and successful by any definition of the term. However they listen to their inner guidance, intuitively, mostly unawares, and it is their cues from this subconscious layer which create their best decisions throughout their lives.
I wish he had let us know just how to get this "unconscious" layer to work for us in a positive way all the time!
Great book, great reading, could not put it down. The book is so rich in insight, I am reading it again.
Never in my adult life have I listened (or read) a book that so beautifully blended prose and allegory with hard science and self-help. The synthesis is a unified theory of morality, motivation, love, character, politics, and meaning. I am not normally a person who can easily be moved to tears by a book, much less one that is really centered on discussions of Maslow's hierarchy of needs or countless studies of firing amygdala's.
Brooks has long been a favorite NYT Columnist, sharing a coherent and consistent world view without being either doctrinaire or an us-versus-them blowhard like Limbaugh on the right or Krugman on the left. This book follows two fictional characters, Harold and Erica, from birth, childhood, careers, marriage, retirement, and death, revealing how social connection (or lack thereof) drives most humanistic endeavors. This insight would not be so groundbreaking, but revealing the how and the why through the prism of the beautiful Harold and Erica love story is where Brooks excels.
As if all of this were not enough, the humor propels this book from being just "Really Good" to being "One for the Ages". A sampling:
"He’s just back from China and stopping by for a corporate board meeting on his way to a five-hundred-mile bike-a-thon to support the fight against lactose intolerance. He is asexually handsome, with a little less body fat than Michelangelo’s David. As he crosses his legs, you observe that they are immeasurably long and slender. He doesn’t really have thighs. Each leg is just one elegant calf on top of another. His voice is so calm and measured that he makes Barack Obama sound like Sam Kinison. He met his wife at the Clinton Global Initiative, where they happened to be wearing the same Doctors Without Borders support bracelets"
Buy this book! You will be immeasurably enriched.
David Brooks in The Social Animal provides the reader with a basic understanding of evolutionary psychology and its interpretation of how we develop character, are affected by our emotions, and how we interact with one another. Throughout the book, he applies insights from neuroscience to our (evolutionary) psychological tendencies. From my perspective, the book’s most valuable chapters come near the end when Brooks applies what he has presented to moral development and ethical reasoning. There is a lot here to admire and a lot to trouble anyone interested in actual and prospective human behavior. Shifting from Freudian psychology to a Darwinian/evolutionary psychology will disturb me for days. Applying that thinking to the human condition and personal living is personally revolutionary. The world will change again as this perspective takes hold. The reading of Author Morey is excellent.
Tell us about yourself!
I really enjoyed this, and my mom and sister each bought it and liked it too. Great way to present interesting information, 5 stars.
Interesting, but very "wonky." I kept wishing for an outline to figure out just what Mr. Brooks was up to here.
This book was just interesting enough to keep me from turning it off and just pointless enough to allow me to remember anything significant about it. What the author was trying to do here was a mystery to me.
The novel is a jumble of the distillation of science we get in news today (which is of no surprise, since Brooks is a contributer to this dumbing down and scintillation of research as a columnist). He makes some interesting observations, but they are all idease plagiarized by other pop-culture writers of our time. The beginning of the novel was fairly good
The characters served no point in creating interest in the subject matter other than as a false pretext to lay out Brooks' synopses of studies he has cobbled together from a multitude of sources from elementary textbook researchers to pop-cultural researchers. It is obvious he did his work for this book by reading popular news articles on science, without real criticism of it.
In addition, he refutes notions of systematic racism and sexism in our country and attributes it entirely to failures of cultures to promote work ethic, with sparse obscure studies, none of which come to the conclusions he does.
The addition of characters to the story is ridiculous at best and offensive at worst, with his anecdotal suggestion for how minorities in poor school systems can climb out of poverty is through violence with school administrators in order to get into charter schools.
I gave the audiobook 2 stars because the narrator was really quite good.
David Brooks starts out with a promising idea and, in the second half, turns his idea into a complete hodgepodge.
Mr. Brooks is an astute columnist and a keen observer of the history of social theory. He is definitely not a novelist. His characters, particularly in the later chapters, fall apart into cardboard cut-outs and soap cast members.
I almost gave up but stuck it out to the bitter end.
I would not recommend this book.
Mr. Brooks brings together mainstream scientific theory, flawless reflection, and laser precise observation on subject matter that encompasses us every day. I thoroughly enjoyed envisioning two peoples journey through their entire lives while having explained (in detail) how each significant moment was shaped by preceding significant moments. I particularly loved the science behind it all, how it came to be, and how it shapes us. I learned quite a bit about me and my life through the story of Erica and Harold. I am simply in awe of Mr. Brooks' ability to bring all of this fact, reflection, and observation into one beautiful work. Kudos to you sir!
Yes, the performance of the reader was outstanding to say the least. The way that this book was read was captivating and held my attention.
I've never really read another book like this one. David Brooks weaves non-fiction and fascinating research through a fictional story that brings you into the minds of the characters Harold and Erica.
I never have, but would absolutely listen to other books read by him. This was one of the best reading performances I have listened to and I am comparing this performance to many other books I have read.
I found myself captivated and brought into the worlds of Harold and Erica throughout the entire journey. Interesting facts and experimental psychology were woven throughout the entire book. There were many times where I felt like I grabbed a useful insight into life and really connected. There were other times were I found myself drifting away. For the most part I thought that this was a well written, interesting read. I have never quite come across a book before that blends fiction and non-fiction in such a unique and insightful way.
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