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Publisher's Summary

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

Critic Reviews

"An uncommonly brilliant blend of sociology, intellect and allegory." ( Kirkus)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Finally!

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.

58 of 66 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

So Insightful I Was Moved To Tears

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.

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

A Mess

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.

16 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A life story

What made the experience of listening to The Social Animal the most enjoyable?

It follows the protagonist from birth to death, presenting many examples of our pains and joys throughout, and explains many psychological theories in easy to understand ways.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Illustrative narrative of social neuroscience

If you could sum up The Social Animal in three words, what would they be?

Illustrative, synopsis, narrative

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The book does a nice job of portraying a cohesive image of the current understanding of social neuroscience

Any additional comments?

The book takes some narrative liberties in interpreting research. Much if the evidence and research in this field is isolated and incomplete. The author takes a few unjustified leaps in his implied understanding.

NOTE: cognitive and social neuroscience is a very young field, we do not have as complete or concrete understanding as the author implies.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Will Turn Your World Upside Down

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.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • MS
  • 08-03-11

self congratulatory and overwrought

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.

12 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Cameron
  • Anchorage, AK, United States
  • 12-10-11

What was this book about again?

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.

7 of 11 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
  • michael
  • Hanover, MD, United States
  • 06-07-11

Warning - proselytizer

Another lunatic trying to push a hidden agenda. I got 6 minutes and 45 seconds into the book and had to discontinue after two "belief in God" promotions. Lesson learned. Research the author more carefully before purchasing a book even if it has high rating.

20 of 33 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Carole T.
  • Shepherdstown, WV, United States
  • 06-17-12

David Brooks?

I have a lot of respect for David Brooks. Rarely do I agree with him, but I appreciate his civil discourse and intelligent reasoning. So, this book was a real disappointment! It is very repetitive and can't really make up its mind what it wants to be - fiction, psychotherapy, social commentary? It's a mixed-up mess, in short. Sorry, David, not recommended.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • AJ the Tramp
  • 09-25-17

great book. very well written. very well read.

really enjoyed this book. shame the references can't be offered. unsure how it would work.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Maria
  • 11-19-18

Wonderful and educational

Will definitely listen again. The studies and academic knowledge is integrated seamlessly with a simple story that captures your imagination.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Katty
  • 06-23-18

Masterpiece description of human experience

Not many books captured my focussed attention as well as this one. The story line will take you on incredible journey through a human experience - you will find your own experience buried within the lifes of the characters in thw story. A must read!

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-26-18

Excellent

Any additional comments?

An excellent knowledge fountain of the insights of human mind. Almost half through it, and I really enjoy it. It is filled with life lessons if you really pay attention to the details. I do recommend

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Susan
  • 07-04-11

Just someone reading out statistics

This whole book is just a list of statistics - and quite a few of them outdated ones. The author tells it like these statistics are facts about human nature when they are in the main just manipulated numbers. There are lots of boring stereotype views about the differences between men and women. I couldn't listen to the whole book so I'm not sure how the love, character and achievement come into it. All I heard was statistics and a contempt for other people.

4 of 10 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • ANGELA J PORRITT
  • 04-03-17

Interesting and insightful

As a female reader I would question a few of the statements made, but overall a very interesting and insightful read into the human condition.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Haan
  • 10-11-18

Comprehensive insight on the human condition

The storytelling is fantastic. It made me understand the concepts while experiencing what the characters were going through in different situations.

HIGHLY RECOMMEND this to everyone who is interested in learning why we do the things we do, and how to learn more from our environment.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Anonymous User
  • 04-04-18

It would be a poor decision to not listen to this

please do yourself a service and listen to this book. If you want to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your mind go no further.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Amal
  • 02-22-17

amazing, interesting and informative

Would you consider the audio edition of The Social Animal to be better than the print version?

yes

What other book might you compare The Social Animal to, and why?

Brain Rules by John Medina. similar practical approach

What does Arthur Morey bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

the perfect voice for the writer

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

it made me think and apply situations to myself

Any additional comments?

modern and informative view on us and social psychology. i enjoyed every minute