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Publisher's Summary

Number-one New York Times best seller

David Brooks challenges us to rebalance the scales between the focus on external success - “résumé virtues” - and our core principles.

Named one of the best books of the year by The Economist 

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.

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 a strong inner character. Labor activist Frances Perkins understood the need to suppress parts of herself so that 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.

“Joy,” David Brooks writes, “is a byproduct experienced by people who are aiming for something else. But it comes.”   

Praise for The Road to Character 

“A hyper-readable, lucid, often richly detailed human story.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“This profound and eloquent book is written with moral urgency and philosophical elegance.” (Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree and The Noonday Demon)

“A powerful, haunting book that works its way beneath your skin.” (The Guardian)

“Original and eye-opening... Brooks is a normative version of Malcolm Gladwell, culling from a wide array of scientists and thinkers to weave an idea bigger than the sum of its parts.” (USA Today)

©2015 David Brooks (P)2015 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Brooks himself delivers the introduction, clearly and engagingly explaining how a career as a pundit, often rewarded for shallow cleverness, has made him yearn for more depth and significance. But how to achieve it? As read by Arthur Morey with lovely pacing and an interested inflection, he finds that one looks to those who have gone before." (AudioFile)

“[Brooks] emerges as a countercultural leader.... The literary achievement of The Road to Character is inseparable from the virtues of its author. As the reader, you not only want to know about Frances Perkins or Saint Augustine. You also want to know what Brooks makes of Frances Perkins or Saint Augustine. The voice of the book is calm, fair and humane. The highlight of the material is the quality of the author’s moral and spiritual judgments.” (Michael Gerson, The Washington Post)

“If you want to be reassured that you are special, you will hate this book. But if you like thoughtful polemics, it is worth logging off Facebook to read it.” (The Economist)

What listeners say about The Road to Character

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  • Overall
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Rich, textured stories

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.

47 people found this helpful

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ADAM ONE & TWO

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.

34 people found this helpful

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A Road to Our True Self

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."

15 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars

Long introduction, trivial book

I was sorely disappointed in this book. I came to it with a hope of finding one or more nuggets that would and me in my own struggle to improve my character, but only found an incomplete and haphazard coverage of a very basic and muddy understanding of morality.

The majority of the book is an accounting of the lives of certain notable persons, with an eye toward their moral struggles, failures, and triumphs. There's a lot of promise in that, but I didn't find it realized. Where the stories could have brought empathy and understanding, there was academic disconnection and judgment. Where I wanted enlightenment, I found confusion over why these particular lives were chosen and how they might fit together. I didn't get any sense that it reached or even pointed past anecdotes toward data or meaningful conclusions. My best guess as to the selection criteria is fame.

In sum, I came away feeling most of the book was an introduction to the main event, which lasted only a single, unsatisfying chapter.

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Informative and edifying, but overly long

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.

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Very nice

It's impressive how well he understands the thinking of different people. also the movements cited at the end give big picture. Will listen over few more times

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I really liked a few of the ideas.

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

APPRECIATION:
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.”

DOMESTIC ABUSE:
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.

AUDIOBOOK NARRATOR:
The narrator Arthur Morey was good.

Narrative mode: 3rd person
Genre: nonfiction self-help, biography.

13 people found this helpful

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Good for Reflexion

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.

8 people found this helpful

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my new life mantra

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

7 people found this helpful

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Very insightful but a bit too focused Christianity

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.

26 people found this helpful