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The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

47 out of 48 people found this review helpful.

My thoughts

In this book, New York Times columnist David Brooks takes on the audacious endeavor of weaving together a unified picture of the human mind through various discoveries from the sciences. Oh ya, and it's all presented in the context of a story about two fictional charact...
In this book, New York Times columnist David Brooks takes on the audacious endeavor of weaving together a unified picture of the human mind through various discoveries from the sciences. Oh ya, and it's all presented in the context of a story about two fictional characters, Harold and Erica. (I wish the book would show you how to use non-cognitive skills to your advantage. "Emotional Intelligence 2.0" is a great book for this.) <P> You can get a good feel for the topics he covers from the chapter titles: <p> 1) Decision Making 2) The Map Meld 3) Mindsight 4) Mapmaking 5) Attachment 6) Learning 7) Norms 8) Self-Control 9) Culture 10) Intelligence 11) Choice Architecture 12) Freedom and Commitment 13) Limerence 14) The Grand Narrative 15) Metis 16) The Insurgency 17) Getting Older 18) Morality 19) The Leader 20) The Soft Side 21) The Other Education 22) Meaning <P> If you think that's a lot of chapters, you're right on target. It's a pretty thick book at 450 pages, but it's easy to move through (not quite novel easy, but much more so than typical nonfiction). <P> Book's strengths: <P> - If you are familiar with Brook's social commentary (and like it) you won't be disappointed, but this isn't the real strength of this book. <P> - In a style that's reminiscent of Malcolm Gladwell, Brooks offers a pop view of experimental psychology that is downright fascinating. The studies he explores are the real meat and merit of this book, and they expose many fallacies in the way we think that we think. Here are a few of the topics: <P> * The hidden role emotions play in making decisions. * How mirror neurons in the brain are wired to mimic the person we're talking to. * The massive role non-cognitive skills (aka, other than IQ) play in success, fulfillment, and achievement. <P> Book's weaknesses: <P> - My biggest criticism of this book is that the author created characters to personify the characteristics he wants us to understand. Allow me to explain. This is fine in theory but in practice (for him anyway) it falls flat compared to the entertaining and poignant explanations he writes when he isn't trying to explain through a character. <P> - As for the story itself, the narrative isn't as flat as your typical non-fiction fiction book (aka management fables and parables of other stripes), but a juicy, page-turning novel it is not. You'll get into the story enough at times that you'll want it to be a page turner, but it's too flat for that.

posted by G_Anderson on March 13, 2011

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Most Helpful Critical Review

8 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

An interesting read

I decided to give this a chance, since I'm interested on the current understanding of the human condition. This is not a book for people who want to read deep accounts of particular research related to the human mind or human relationships. If you don't have the time or...
I decided to give this a chance, since I'm interested on the current understanding of the human condition. This is not a book for people who want to read deep accounts of particular research related to the human mind or human relationships. If you don't have the time or patience for the more in-depth books, this is an acceptable starting point. The book is written to tell the story of two fictional, "successful" humans in modern America as the means to introduce the current understanding of our human nature. It begins with the background and parents of the two fictional characters and continues until the eventual end-of-life. As a story, it is well-written, and it was easy to see yourself in comparison to the characters. The story is broken up with an overview of current research and understanding of how the human mind works. By biggest issues with this book are that it can be trite at times and Mr. Brooks too often pushes his own particular viewpoint on how he thinks humans and societies should work by not straying far from anything that doesn't support his Rockwellian idyllic America. In particular, the frequent allusions to belief in a higher power as the natural state of humanity was grating for me on a personal level. I feel humanity is pretty amazing of its own accord without having to inject an idea of god or gods into the mix. Overall, it is well written, and it seems to be well researched, albeit biased by the author's world view. If you're looking for any easy read to learn more about what research has shown about what it is to be human, it is worth your time.

posted by WisconsinReader on April 11, 2011

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  • Posted March 13, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    My thoughts

    In this book, New York Times columnist David Brooks takes on the audacious endeavor of weaving together a unified picture of the human mind through various discoveries from the sciences. Oh ya, and it's all presented in the context of a story about two fictional characters, Harold and Erica. (I wish the book would show you how to use non-cognitive skills to your advantage. "Emotional Intelligence 2.0" is a great book for this.) &lt;P&gt; You can get a good feel for the topics he covers from the chapter titles: &lt;p&gt; 1) Decision Making 2) The Map Meld 3) Mindsight 4) Mapmaking 5) Attachment 6) Learning 7) Norms 8) Self-Control 9) Culture 10) Intelligence 11) Choice Architecture 12) Freedom and Commitment 13) Limerence 14) The Grand Narrative 15) Metis 16) The Insurgency 17) Getting Older 18) Morality 19) The Leader 20) The Soft Side 21) The Other Education 22) Meaning &lt;P&gt; If you think that's a lot of chapters, you're right on target. It's a pretty thick book at 450 pages, but it's easy to move through (not quite novel easy, but much more so than typical nonfiction). &lt;P&gt; Book's strengths: &lt;P&gt; - If you are familiar with Brook's social commentary (and like it) you won't be disappointed, but this isn't the real strength of this book. &lt;P&gt; - In a style that's reminiscent of Malcolm Gladwell, Brooks offers a pop view of experimental psychology that is downright fascinating. The studies he explores are the real meat and merit of this book, and they expose many fallacies in the way we think that we think. Here are a few of the topics: &lt;P&gt; * The hidden role emotions play in making decisions. * How mirror neurons in the brain are wired to mimic the person we're talking to. * The massive role non-cognitive skills (aka, other than IQ) play in success, fulfillment, and achievement. &lt;P&gt; Book's weaknesses: &lt;P&gt; - My biggest criticism of this book is that the author created characters to personify the characteristics he wants us to understand. Allow me to explain. This is fine in theory but in practice (for him anyway) it falls flat compared to the entertaining and poignant explanations he writes when he isn't trying to explain through a character. &lt;P&gt; - As for the story itself, the narrative isn't as flat as your typical non-fiction fiction book (aka management fables and parables of other stripes), but a juicy, page-turning novel it is not. You'll get into the story enough at times that you'll want it to be a page turner, but it's too flat for that.

    47 out of 48 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 11, 2011

    An interesting read

    I decided to give this a chance, since I'm interested on the current understanding of the human condition. This is not a book for people who want to read deep accounts of particular research related to the human mind or human relationships. If you don't have the time or patience for the more in-depth books, this is an acceptable starting point. The book is written to tell the story of two fictional, "successful" humans in modern America as the means to introduce the current understanding of our human nature. It begins with the background and parents of the two fictional characters and continues until the eventual end-of-life. As a story, it is well-written, and it was easy to see yourself in comparison to the characters. The story is broken up with an overview of current research and understanding of how the human mind works. By biggest issues with this book are that it can be trite at times and Mr. Brooks too often pushes his own particular viewpoint on how he thinks humans and societies should work by not straying far from anything that doesn't support his Rockwellian idyllic America. In particular, the frequent allusions to belief in a higher power as the natural state of humanity was grating for me on a personal level. I feel humanity is pretty amazing of its own accord without having to inject an idea of god or gods into the mix. Overall, it is well written, and it seems to be well researched, albeit biased by the author's world view. If you're looking for any easy read to learn more about what research has shown about what it is to be human, it is worth your time.

    8 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    The Social Animal and Critical Thought

    David Brooks makes an impressive case for the role of the unconscious and moral intuition in man's judgments. Brooks argues that we are not rationalists, in which conscious reason and logic control our decisions, the view of the French Enlightenment. We are largely social, sentimental creatures, the view of the British Enlightenment. Unfortunately, the unconscious and the moral imagination have become the basis for societal decisions that also require reason and logic-critical thought. Our college-educated social animals consider their views the products of uniquely creative intelligence, intuition, and imagination-and thus morally superior. But in other than technical professions such as natural science, medicine, engineering, and finance, college since the 1960s has inculcated postmodern thinking in our elites. Postmodern thinking dismisses the "rationalistic" mentality associated with scientific mechanism and materialism, what Theodore Roszak derided as "objective consciousness." The elite moral imagination reflects the postmodern social construction of reality (or illusion), dismissing the need for evidence. The sustainability ideology now dominant among elites illustrates the results of such thinking, or moralism. And many elements of sustainability require objective understanding and use of mathematics and assessment of risk, for which, as Brooks notes, the unconscious is unequipped. For matters of public policy, critical thought, not just personal or collective moral intuition, must be an essential element of judgment. In conscious thinking, as William James advised, intuition and logic must operate in partnership; the challenge of the rational mind is to sort and organize the interchange between the two. Moreover, the mind must use quality information and methods stored in memory to properly develop and apply both reason and the moral imagination. Are our elite social animals wholly capable of conducting such critical thinking in combination with their intuition? As first revealed by A Nation at Risk (1983), over decades many elites as well as others in Generations X and Y have received mediocre educations. Such elites lack the hard knowledge, experience, and vocabulary-as well as historical understanding-to fully inform their intuition, imagination, or reason. College graduates, increasingly educated in popular culture, are weakest in reasoning skills such as the ability to infer knowledge that is not explicitly stated and to assess the validity of evidence or the logic of arguments. Many elites are semiliterate, innumerate, and lack the critical thinking skills necessary to overcome the prejudices of human nature (Francis Bacon's "idols"): availability biases, conspiracy theories, false beliefs, and moral obsessions and crusades often based on fantasy rather than imagination. David Brooks need not be concerned that our elites are unduly rationalistic. For public matters, such as the efficacy of the sustainability ideology, many of those elites-in other than their technical professions-would seem largely unprepared to draw responsible rather than moralistic conclusions. Rather than accepting the unconscious as the basis for their thinking, our elites should examine how critical thought can be applied along with the moral imagination-perhaps by the proper use of objective technical professionals rather than only social animals.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2011

    Captivating and insightful!

    Thoroughly enjoyed this amazing read. Format clever, conveying the author's message in story form, illustrating the subject as real life. It caused me to examine my own journey, while traveling through this realistic adventure. From beginning to end a beautiful, deeper experience was thoughtfully presented to the reader. Should be required reading.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 23, 2011

    Great read - impressive

    Most of what i liked has already been said, but the take away for me was how expansive and thought provoking the story line was. Certain passages would cause you to stop in your tracks and question the assumption and think for a while. There are so many intersecting lines of thought regarding life and how we experience it, I had never read anything like this before. Brillant book in my opinion and enjoyable to read.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 4, 2011

    Not quite a story about a hypothetical couple with no happy ending

    What a strange book...it's a "story" about a couple, but not really. It's interrupted with bits and pieces including discussions of clinical trials on social and individual behavior, sociology facts, and the milestones of life stages and facts about human development. As a psychologist, I found this book to be written for lay people. As the book intermittenly covers the life spans of the two main characters, it has a sad ending and leaves holes in the story about what happened to the couple at various points in their relationship. As a novel, the story is disjointed. Credit goes to the author for his extensive research into social and human behavior, however scattered and surface level.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 8, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Brooks helps to me to articulate what I think

    I listen to David Brooks because he has a way looking at the world that adds depth to my perceptions. As a result of hearing his point of view, I can articulate my own positions better. Between the two of us, we do not cover all possible iterations of an argument, but we make a wider circle of opinion. He seems to be a man I could negotiate with, and come up with a better solution than if either he or I made decisions on our own. Well, anyway, he'd have to negotiate if he wanted my participation. Another thing I like about David Brooks is that he is not despairing, despite knowing what he does about the way Washington works. He just plods along, looking for and picking up little gems along the road that might mean the difference between collapse and success in our post-apocalyptic world. Because he doesn't make me comfortable that Washington is going to be able to change enough to save us from ourselves. I think he essentially has a dark view of the path our leaders are walking. But, he says, we the populace could change our fate if we took responsibility for learning the lessons science is now teaching us. In The Social Animal Brooks writes a story meant to illustrate in narrative the results of studies done for the psychology, sociology, neuroscience, and medical fields in recent years. It is a quick and easy read, though I paused several times over the choices the protagonists made, remembering choices in my own life that echoed. I am familiar with many of the studies he used as a structure for the narrative, so could follow his lead, though I did wonder whether this was the best way to explicate the material. It's not what I would have done, but then, I didn't write it. It's his way, and once again I'm willing to negotiate. Protagonists Erika and Harold grow up in different types of social environments and we follow them through life. Things happen to them, and they also impact and shape their environment. They both end up in the same place, despite getting there by very different means. Brooks has his main character muse about limited government, but with targeted interventions that may help people focus on the hard work that is necessary to build a democratic society with (and here he laments that the term "socialism" has already been taken) a strong social-izing bent. He gives voice to his Hamiltonian bent (from conservative President Alexander Hamilton) and tries to describe ways this successful president might make choices were he alive today. Brooks makes a thoughtful attempt to synthesize disparate fragments of information that has gleaned in the course of his life and work and so adds to the national dialogue.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 29, 2011

    disappointing

    If Barnes and Noble would allow it, I would give this book a minus star rating.
    Mr Brooks takes what could is fascinating information and presents it in a way that manages to be both condescending and sappy.
    The characters of Harold and Erica, that he uses to present the information, are so cartoonish, that they get in the way of of the reader's access to the information.
    There is so much new and interesting information on the subject of human thought, development, and character, but I found it difficult to find it in this text.
    I have heard Mr Brooks speak. He knows his stuff. I just wish that he had written this in a more direct manner.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 26, 2011

    I Cried

    I was prepared to open this review with the snarky comment that David Brooks spoiled what could have been an excellent book because he was unable to resist the temptation to politicize it midstream with neo-Hamiltonian, inside-the-Beltway pontification. I haven't changed that opinion. However, the last few pages, titled "The Final Day," provide the most poignant depiction of end-of-life thoughts and feelings that I have ever read. I predict that the lasting value of *The Social Animal* will be its readable, entertaining synthesis of contemporary (and primarily American) information on post-Darwinian humans of our era. It "translates research into usable advice": the very need that caused Brooks' main characters, Harold and Erica, to meet.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2012

    Outstanding

    David Brooks is amazing. This book is comprehensive and enlightening and FUNNY. Don't miss it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2012

    Amazing.

    Every great element of writing is to be found in this novel...calling it a novel because it is beyond excellent non-fiction and beyond excellent fiction by means of the beyond cleaver method the author fathomed to walk his reader through his thinking -- which is so beautifully done it is breathtaking at times. David Brooks has graced us with a work quite divine and totally masterful.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2011

    Excellent read

    Huge insightful but also entertaining. Brooks relays the information in a way that keeps you interested in the story while packing the book full of insightful case studies and statistics about the human mind and society as a whole.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 12, 2011

    It is not a novel

    So please, do not review it as such, lampooning the "boring facts" that interrupt the "story"

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2011

    Fascinating!

    I thought this book was terrific, despite the fact that Brooks has undertaken the herculean task of organizing a huge amount of research; he's done well!

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 6, 2013

    I truly enjoyed this book, I learned, but in a very intriguing a

    I truly enjoyed this book, I learned, but in a very intriguing and entertaining way. The fictional characters kept me interested; the presentation of such fascinating studies amazed and amused me. My favorite-the marshmallow study; &quot; The marshmallow test turned out to be a better predictor than SAT scores than the IQ tests given to 4 year olds.&quot;

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2013

    A book to skim for a miriad of studies ...some more interesting than others.

    Mr. Brooks apparently wanted to let us all know how much he (thinks) he knows in this collection of TNTC studies done to support multiple STLL unclear theories of human interactions and connections, resulting from genetic, social, cultural and economic variables. Many of the studies are interesting. However, Brooks doesn't present a cohesive story of we the Social Animal in all our complexity.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2012

    Amazing

    Provides amazing dinteresting into the human mind and its abilities.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2012

    I have not read this book

    I am nine years old so i don't think I will, or at least any time soon.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2012

    A balm for our times

    We need to think more of how we work together then how we are apart. This book is food for thought.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 4, 2011

    Excellent!

    I was reluctant to buy this book due to Mr. Brooks political points of view. However, it is clear you can't judge a book by it's author. This is a great piece of work. A must read!!!

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