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"I wrote this book not sure I could follow the road to character, but I wanted at least to know what the road looks like and how other people have trodden it." (David Brooks)
With the wisdom, humor, curiosity, and sharp insights that have brought millions of readers to his New York Times column and his previous best sellers, David Brooks has consistently illuminated our daily lives in surprising and original ways. In The Social Animal, he explored the neuroscience of human connection and how we can flourish together. Now, in The Road to Character, he focuses on the deeper values that should inform our lives. Responding to what he calls the culture of the Big Me, which emphasizes external success, Brooks challenges us and himself to rebalance the scales between our "résumé virtues" - achieving wealth, fame, and status - and our "eulogy virtues," those that exist at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty, faithfulness, and relationships.
Looking to some of the world's greatest thinkers and inspiring leaders, Brooks explores how, through internal struggle and a sense of their own limitations, they have built strong inner character. Labor activist Frances Perkins understood the need to suppress parts of herself so she could be an instrument in a larger cause. Dwight Eisenhower organized his life not around impulsive self-expression but considered self-restraint. Dorothy Day, a devout Catholic convert and champion of the poor, learned as a young woman the vocabulary of simplicity and surrender. Civil rights pioneers A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin learned reticence and the logic of self-discipline, the need to distrust oneself even while waging a noble crusade.
Blending psychology, politics, spirituality, and confessional, The Road to Character provides an opportunity for us to rethink our priorities and strive to build rich inner lives marked by humility and moral depth.
After the introduction I regretted buying the book. I'm glad I gave it a second chance and continued. The structure is anecdotal, which I ordinarily find too superficial, but his stories are rich. They will stay with you long after putting the book down. The complex characters are described in the context of their time. It reads like real life: The characters are flawed; The values of their time have fallen out of favor. The stories are well-researched and honestly portrayed.
14 of 15 people found this review helpful
Though David Brooks only refers to Adam one and two (a nod to biblical creation), he is arguing “The Road to Character” is formed by two forces of nature in both men and women. The forces of nature are classified here as “Adam and Eve one”, characterized by logic, and rationality, and “Adam and Eve two”, characterized by spirit, sex-drive, instinct, and emotion.
As many know, this is not a new revelation. However, Brooks does a masterful job of recalling several interesting historical figures that are the gravel base and pavement for his “…Road to Character” argument. Because Brooks turns to the past, there is inference, and some suggestion, that the present and future are threatened by an imbalance between the two forces; with a result that implies a diminished character in modern times. One may disagree with that inference and still be entertained and enlightened by Brooks’ historical vignettes of accomplished men and women.
Brooks goes on to give thumb nail histories of Frances Perkins, Dwight Eisenhower, George Marshall, Bayard Rustin, Mary Ann Eliot (aka George Eliot), Samuel Johnson, and others. In each vignette, Brooks outlines a struggle between “Adam and Eve one” and “Adam and Eve two” views of the world. The stories are about the agony felt by human beings struggling with logic and rationality, and its conflicts with spirit, sex drive, instinct, and emotion.
10 of 11 people found this review helpful
I am a huge fan of David Brooks but I ended up skipping the final chapter and a half. There was good content and analysis, but the deep probing into psyches and moral development became tedious after awhile. I did appreciate learning more about influential personalities from the past.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to The Road to Character the most enjoyable?
Stories are what will always inspire us to change and this book is like all of the good books which influence us and help us to change to that person we were before we built an ego that locked us away. Starting with Adam One and Adam Two connected me because of my reading of "The Immortal Diamond" by Fr. Richard Rohr where I became acquainted with my True Self and the importance of reclaiming it.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Augustine will always be my favorite just as Paul is my favorite character in the Bible. Both had to fail miserably at trying to control their lives before they learned how to ask for help and allow God to direct them to a happier and more fulfilled life. C.S. Lewis calls pain God's megaphone and Augustine is the poster child for this wisdom.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
Augustine's father when he embarrassed him in front of his friends. It was a cruel and thoughtless act that scarred him and drove him to his life of always wanting to "win" and the life of misery he lived until his conversion in the garden.
Any additional comments?
I would love to see a conversation between Richard Rohr and David Brooks sometime. I think they are coming to the same place in understanding the human experience albeit by different "roads."
7 of 8 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about The Road to Character?
The book allows readers to re-calibrate their personal expectations. Reading about other people with true 'character" is very motivating.
6 of 7 people found this review helpful
Some of the biographies were interesting, but several parts were dull.
The author talks about several famous people, giving examples of their work and contributions to society.
The author divides humans into two selfs: Adam 1 the traits that appear on a resume, Adam 2 the traits that appear on a tombstone or eulogy.
Adam 2 traits/ideas include the following:
humility, quiet your own ego
struggle against sin (selfishness, prejudice, insecurity, cruelty)
become more disciplined, considerate and loving
one can achieve a good life through their vocation
Two examples showed that one should not do things in hopes of being appreciated. Dorothy Day did many things for the poor and said “don’t expect the poor to appreciate you.” A comment about Augustine “His hunger for admiration enslaved him rather than delighting him. He was at the whim of other people’s facile opinions, sensitive to their slightest criticism.”
I’ve always wondered why so many men become abusive to their wives. This book was not about that, but one idea I think is a link to that abusiveness. “Power exaggerates the disposition making a rude person ruder and a controlling person more controlling. The higher you go in life, the fewer people there are to offer honest feedback or restrain your unpleasant traits.” If a woman interrupts her career to give priority to the home and children, she loses power, and he has more power.
The narrator Arthur Morey was good.
Narrative mode: 3rd person
Genre: nonfiction self-help, biography.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
this book has changed my attitude towards myself and my life's goals. not only did I enjoy it immensely, I know I will learn from it every day of my life
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
I feel like it would have been a bit more interesting to focus on other influential strong character figures that were not Catholic yet still held a belief in a higher power.
15 of 20 people found this review helpful
Thought it was incredible how the author identified major character flaws in last century's famous and infamous leaders. By understanding their weakness and putting someone with the skill set they lack brings amazing workmanship and they are able to accomplish much more than if they were actually good at everything.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
The applications after each "life story" example were not always clear and easy to follow. Albeit I did listen as I was driving so the book didn't always have my full attention...not that gripping.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful