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The Second Mountain

How People Move from the Prison of Self to the Joy of Commitment
Narrated by: Arthur Morey
Length: 12 hrs and 58 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (283 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Number-one New York Times best seller

Everybody tells you to live for a cause larger than yourself, but how exactly do you do it? The best-selling author of The Road to Character explores what it takes to lead a meaningful life in a self-centered world.

Every so often, you meet people who radiate joy - who seem to know why they were put on this earth, who glow with a kind of inner light. Life, for these people, has often followed what we might think of as a two-mountain shape. They get out of school, they start a career, and they begin climbing the mountain they thought they were meant to climb. Their goals on this first mountain are the ones our culture endorses: to be a success, to make your mark, to experience personal happiness. But when they get to the top of that mountain, something happens. They look around and find the view...unsatisfying. They realize: This wasn’t my mountain after all. There’s another, bigger mountain out there that is actually my mountain. And so they embark on a new journey. 

On the second mountain, life moves from self-centered to other-centered. They want the things that are truly worth wanting, not the things other people tell them to want. They embrace a life of interdependence, not independence. They surrender to a life of commitment. 

In The Second Mountain, David Brooks explores the four commitments that define a life of meaning and purpose: to a spouse and family, to a vocation, to a philosophy or faith, and to a community. Our personal fulfillment depends on how well we choose and execute these commitments. Brooks looks at a range of people who have lived joyous, committed lives, and who have embraced the necessity and beauty of dependence. He gathers their wisdom on how to choose a partner, how to pick a vocation, how to live out a philosophy, and how we can begin to integrate our commitments into one overriding purpose. 

In short, this audiobook is meant to help us all lead more meaningful lives. But it’s also a provocative social commentary. We live in a society, Brooks argues, that celebrates freedom, that tells us to be true to ourselves, at the expense of surrendering to a cause, rooting ourselves in a neighborhood, binding ourselves to others by social solidarity and love. We have taken individualism to the extreme - and in the process we have torn the social fabric in a thousand different ways. The path to repair is through making deeper commitments. In The Second Mountain, Brooks reveals what can happen when we put commitment-making at the center of our lives.

©2019 David Brooks (P)2019 Random House Audio

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Pursue meaning, reject hyper-individualism

I was somewhat reluctant to pick The Second Mountain up. I watched several interviews with him and many those interviews were interesting, but they seemed like they were talking about a couple different books, they range from personal self help book, to ‘an extended graduation speech’, to a version of Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward. Having finished the book, I understand all of those descriptions, but none of them were quite right. And while I am glad I read the book, I do think that is part of the problem of the book.

I was also reluctant because while I generally liked his last book Road to Charater, I thought there were significant weaknesses with the book and I did not want to relive a ‘do better’ encouragement book. Once I decided to pick up The Second Mountain, I was pleased that he offered an apology for the weaknesses of the The Road to Character that roughly addressed my issues.

There are many great quotes in The Second Mountain. They are often even better in full context than as stand alone quotes. Like, “Happiness can be tasted alone, but permanent joy requires an enmeshed and embedded life.” He riffs off of CS Lewis’ and others distinction between happiness and joy. The whole book is really about pursuing joy and the other deeper things in life and not just happiness and the other fleeting things in life. It is not that the fleeting things are unimportant, but that they are not fulfilling.

The book is really in two parts. The first part is making his argument for this concept of the Second Mountain. The first mountain is success in life while the second mountain is the pursuit of meaning. If you have read Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward it is a similar, but not exactly similar point.The second part is the four commitments that lead to the Second Mountain, but also are those things that fight against the hyper-individualism that is really the underlying theme of the book. The four commitments are to Vocation, Marriage, Faith (or philosophy) and Community.

Throughout the book Brooks uses his own story as an example, certainly not the only example, but an example both of why pursuit of the second mountain is needed, but also of how he has done it. This isn’t a memoir, and it isn’t intended to be a memoir. But I think many of the problems of the book I think are that is isn’t a memoir.

The section on the commitment to faith is an explicit testimony of his conversion to Christianity. This is a book written for a secular audience primarily. And I think he hits on this section exactly right. It is his story of coming to Christianity, not an apologetic argument (really an argument against the way that apologetics is often used), but a story similar to Francis Spufford’s take on faith in Unappologetic. Brooks is really making an argument not for Christianity in particular, but for the role of faith, or a philosophy of living, in general as a means to pull people into community. So this will not make everyone happy that wants him to give a full throated argument for Christianity. His point here is to show that in his life, Christianity has been what has pulled him toward the second mountain. (But also he explicitly says he is not leaving his Judaism behind, in some ways he feels more Jewish now because that is also part of his faith commitment that pulls him toward the second mountain.)

The problem with The Second Mountain is that I think it is trying to do way too much. Parts of it really do read like an extended commencement address. Other parts read like a book you give to someone that is facing a midlife crisis. And there are other parts that are straight self help and verge on the etherial 'do better' advice. And while much of the advice in the marriage section really is very good marriage advice, it is marriage advice from a recently divorce and remarried man.

Part of my problem with the book is that it feels like a 'recent convert' book. Not just the parts about Christianity (in fact the Christianity parts are probably where he sounds least like a new convert). The book as a whole is focusing on helping people focus on maturity. I am all for focusing on maturity. But the focusing on maturity is what he sounds like he has recently converted to. The book as a whole is a response to a personal breakdown about five years ago and his struggle back to health. While there is much good here, and I am saying that seriously, there really is much good here, it feels to me like he wrote this 5-10 years too soon.

I know that we all are impatient. We want to both learn quickly, skip steps, and get the silver bullet. Brooks is arguing that we can’t skip the important parts. We have to invest in community, family, faith and work for the long haul. It is in the long haul that maturity comes. The good of the book affirms that long term, slow, don’t skip steps, invest deeply, not widely, focus. But the book is also written only a few years after he had this insight and it feels too soon.At the end of the book, when he is trying to distill the whole book down to a short manifesto, it was interesting that in more than a couple of ways, Brooks was saying very similar things to what Jonathan Walton was saying in 12 Lies That Hold America Captive, including the difference between conditional and unconditional love. Our society is currently focused on the conditional. I am not going to recount the ways that they go together, but the two books which are about fundamentally different issues, have remarkably similar conclusions.
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This doesn’t really fit anywhere else, but In an interview with Collin Hansen on The Gospel Coalition podcast, Brooks makes a distinction between community and tribalism that I think is helpful, although not part of the common definition. He said that community is built around loving something in common and he contrasted that with tribalism that is build around the hatred or opposition to a thing or person or idea.

18 of 20 people found this review helpful

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  • Rachel F
  • Los Angeles, CA United States
  • 04-22-19

Ethical will - solid suggestions

Reads like an ethical will. Excited to see if any of the concepts and points take shape in our american society and looking forward to making changes within myself which align with the moral suggestions found herein.

6 of 9 people found this review helpful

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So close to 5 star

Only thing holding this book back from being five stars is There is a part in this book about marriage that lasted far far too long. If you can get past that part this is an excellent book.

7 of 11 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Touching

As only Mr. Brooks could capture and right. I see myself in every word and page.

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Hard to read and not experience introspection

This is one of the most thought provoking books I have read. It is hard not to think about what matters most to you and how you can be a better person in service to something greater after reading. I also enjoyed learning about David Brooks and respected his honesty and vulnerability in speaking about his own journey.

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pretty sure I can be a better person

Super thoughtful, so many wonderful quotes from books I'll never read that I actually went and bought the hard copy just so I can highlight points from it. not preachy but full of warm encouragement. Looks carefully at societal failings and offers direction for what can be implemented personally . Kind voice of narrator was just right

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A good book to read in divisive times

A very thoughtful and interesting read. No one book explains it all, but this book makes a meaningful contribution. It helps me understand society and my individual motivations and hopefully climb the second mountain.

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I love the idea of reasonability relationship

the end of the individualism and the start of tribalism relationalism couldn't happen to fast for our society. great read.

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Insightful, relatable, laced with religiosity

The book introduces and expands on the first and second mountain concepts – nice work – but Brooks is, to a fault, mesmerized by his own religious awareness/awakening.

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a must read for young and old!

the book had me in awe with insights, articulated what my soul was screaming but I couldn't explain!!!