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

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

3.4 203
by David Brooks

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With unequaled insight and brio, David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and bestselling 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


With unequaled insight and brio, David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and bestselling 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 thirty years than we had in the previous three thousand. 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.

The Social Animal is a moving and nuanced intellectual adventure, a story of achievement and a defense of progress. Impossible to put down, it is an essential book for our time, one that will have broad social impact and will change the way we see ourselves and the world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
New York Times columnist Brooks (Bobos in Paradise) raids Malcolm Gladwell's pop psychology turf in a wobbly treatise on brain science, human nature, and public policy. Essentially a satirical novel interleaved with disquisitions on mirror neurons and behavioral economics, the narrative chronicles the life cycle of a fictional couple—Harold, a historian working at a think tank, and Erica, a Chinese-Chicana cable-TV executive—as a case study of the nonrational roots of social behaviors, from mating and shopping to voting. Their story lets Brooks mock the affluent and trendy while advancing soft neoconservative themes: that genetically ingrained emotions and biases trump reason; that social problems require cultural remedies (charter schools, not welfare payments); that the class divide is about intelligence, deportment, and taste, not money or power. Brooks is an engaging guide to the "cognitive revolution" in psychology, but what he shows us amounts mainly to restating platitudes. (Women like men with money, we learn, while men like women with breasts.) His attempt to inflate recent research on neural mechanisms into a grand worldview yields little except buzz concepts—"society is a layering of networks"—no more persuasive than the rationalist dogmas he derides. (Mar.)
Paul Bloom
…sharp, clear and often very funny…Many of us, Brooks believes, are in the grip of an outdated theory of human nature. We give priority to cold-blooded reason, to deliberative, conscious, logical and linear thought…[but] Brain research, Brooks tells us, "reminds us of the relative importance of emotion over pure reason, social connections over individual choice, character over IQ." Brooks is right that many psychologists, philosophers and neuroscientists believe this to be true. The Social Animal is a savvy, accessible and enthusiastic defense of their position—they are lucky to have him on their side.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher

“Authoritative, impressively learned, and vast in scope.”—Newsweek
“As in [Bobos in Paradise] he shows genius in sketching archetypes and coining phrases. . . . In The Social Animal Mr. Brooks surveys a stunning amount of research and cleverly connects it to everyday experience.”—The Wall Street Journal
“[A] fascinating study of the unconscious mind and its impact on our lives . . . Brooks has done well to draw such vivid attention to the wide implications of the accumulated research on the mind and the triggers of human behaviour.”—The Economist
“An uncommonly brilliant blend of sociology, intellect and allegory.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred revew)
“Provocative and fascinating . . . seeks to do nothing less than revolutionize our notions about how we function and conduct our lives.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Multifaceted, compulsively readable . . . Brooks’s considerable achievement comes in his ability to elevate the unseen aspects of private experience into a vigorous and challenging conversation about what we all share.”—San Francisco Chronicle

From the Hardcover edition.

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Random House Publishing Group
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6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

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The Social Animal

The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement
By David Brooks

Random House

Copyright © 2011 David Brooks
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781400067602

chapter 1

Decision Making

After the boom and bust, after the go-go frenzy and the Wall Street meltdown, the Composure Class rose once again to the fore. The people in this group hadn't made their money through hedge-fund wizardry or by some big financial score. They'd earned it by climbing the meritocratic ladder of success. They'd made good grades in school, established solid social connections, joined quality companies, medical practices, and firms. Wealth had just settled down upon them gradually like a gentle snow.

You'd see a paragon of the Composure Class lunching al fresco at some shaded bistro in Aspen or Jackson Hole. 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 Leonardo's David, and hair so lush and luxuriously wavy that, if you saw him in L.A., you'd ask, "Who's that handsome guy with George Clooney?" 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 like someone walking in socks on a Persian carpet-so calm and composed, he makes Barack Obama sound like Lenny Bruce. He met his wife at the Clinton Global Initiative. They happened to be wearing the same Doctors Without Borders support bracelets and quickly discovered they had the same yoga instructor and their Fulbright Scholarships came only two years apart. They are a wonderfully matched pair, with the only real tension between them involving their workout routines. For some reason, today's high- prestige men do a lot of running and biking and only work on the muscles in the lower half of their bodies. High-status women, on the other hand, pay ferocious attention to their torsos, biceps, and forearms so they can wear sleeveless dresses all summer and crush rocks into pebbles with their bare hands.

So Mr. Casual Elegance married Ms. Sculpted Beauty in a ceremony officiated by Bill and Melinda Gates, and they produced three wonderful children: Effortless Brilliance, Global Compassion, and Artistically Gifted. Like most upper- and upper-middle-class children, these kids are really good at obscure sports. Centuries ago, members of the educated class discovered that they could no longer compete in football, baseball, and basketball, so they stole lacrosse from the American Indians to give them something to dominate.

The kids all excelled at homogenous and proudly progressive private high schools, carefully spending their summers interning at German science labs. Junior year, their parents sat them down and solemnly informed them that they were now old enough to start reading The Economist. They went off to selective colleges with good sports teams, like Duke and Stanford, and then they launched careers that would reflect well on their parents-for example by becoming chief economist at the World Bank after a satisfying few years with the Joffrey Ballet.

Members of the Composure Class spend much of their adult lives going into rooms and making everybody else feel inferior. This effect is only magnified by the fact that they are sincere, modest, and nice. Nothing gives them greater pleasure than inviting you out to their weekend place. This involves meeting them Friday afternoon at some private airport. They arrive with their belongings in a tote bag because when you have your own plane you don't need luggage that actually closes.

It's best to tuck away a few granola bars if you go on one of these jaunts because the sumptuary code of this new gentry means that they will semi-starve you all weekend. This code involves lavish spending on durables and spartan spending on consumables. They'll give you a ride on a multimillion-dollar Gulfstream 5, and serve a naked turkey slice sandwich on stale bread from the Safeway. They will have a nine- bedroom weekend mansion, but they brag that the furniture is from Ikea, and on Saturday they'll offer you one of those Hunger Strike Lunches-four lettuce shards and three grams of tuna salad-because they think everybody eats as healthily as they do.

It has become fashionable in these circles to have dogs a third as tall as the ceiling heights, so members of the Composure Class have these gigantic bearlike hounds named after Jane Austen characters. The dogs are crossbreeds between Saint Bernards and velociraptors, and they will gently lay their giant muzzles on tabletops or Range Rover roofs, whichever is higher. The weekend itself will consist of long bouts of strenuous activity interrupted by short surveys of the global economic situation and bright stories about their closest friends-Rupert, Warren, Colin, Sergey, Bono, and the Dalai Lama. In the evenings they will traipse down to a resort community for ice cream and a stroll. Spontaneous applause may erupt on the sidewalks as they parade their immaculate selves down the avenues, licking their interesting gelatos. People will actually choose to vacation in these places just to bathe in the aura of human perfection.

The Meeting

It was in one of those precincts that, one summer's day, a man and a woman met for the first time. These young people, in their late twenties, would go on to be the parents of Harold, one of the heroes of this story. And the first thing you should know about these soon- to-be parents is that they were both good-hearted, but sort of shallow-even though their son would go on to be intellectually ambitious and sort of profound. They had been drawn to this resort community by the gravitational pull of Composure Class success, which they someday hoped to join. They were staying in group homes with other aspiring young professionals, and a blind lunch date had been arranged by a mutual friend.

Their names were Rob and Julia, and they got their first glimpse of each other in front of a Barnes & Noble. Rob and Julia smiled broadly at each other as they approached, and a deep, primeval process kicked in. Each saw different things. Rob, being a certain sort of man, took in most of what he wanted to know through his eyes. His male Pleistocene ancestors were confronted with the puzzling fact that human females do not exhibit any physical signals when they're ovulating, unlike many other animals. So the early hunters made do with the closest markers of fertility available.

And so Rob looked for the traits almost all heterosexual men look for in a woman. David Buss surveyed over ten thousand people in thirty- seven different societies and found that standards of female beauty are pretty much the same around the globe. Men everywhere value clear skin, full lips, long lustrous hair, symmetrical features, shorter distances between the mouth and chin and between the nose and chin, and a waist-to-hip ratio of about 0.7. A study of painting going back thousands of years found that most of the women depicted had this ratio. Playboy bunnies tend to have this ratio, though their overall fleshiness can change with the fashions. Even the famously thin supermodel Twiggy had exactly a 0.73 percent waist-to-hip ratio.

Rob liked what he saw. He was struck by a vague and alluring sense that Julia carried herself well, for there is nothing that so enhances beauty as self-confidence. He enjoyed the smile that spread across her face, and unconsciously noted that the end of her eyebrows dipped down. The orbicularis oculi muscle, which controls this part of the eyebrow, cannot be consciously controlled, so when the tip of the eyebrow dips, that means the smile is genuine not fake.

Rob registered her overall level of attractiveness, subliminally aware that attractive people generally earn significantly higher incomes.

Rob also liked the curve he instantly discerned under her blouse, and followed its line with an appreciation that went to the core of his being. Somewhere in the back of his brain, he knew that a breast is merely an organ, a mass of skin and fat. And yet, he was incapable of thinking in that way. He went through his days constantly noting their presence around him. The line of a breast on a piece of paper was enough to arrest his attention. The use of the word "boob" was a source of subliminal annoyance to him, because that undignified word did not deserve to be used in connection with so holy a form, and he sensed it was used, mostly by women, to mock his deep fixation.

And of course breasts exist in the form they do precisely to arouse this reaction. There is no other reason human breasts should be so much larger than the breasts of other primates. Apes are flat- chested. Larger human breasts do not produce more milk than smaller ones. They serve no nutritional purpose, but they do serve as signaling devices and set off primitive light shows in the male brain. Men consistently rate women with attractive bodies and unattractive faces more highly than women with attractive faces and unattractive bodies. Nature does not go in for art for art's sake, but it does produce art.

Julia had a much more muted reaction upon seeing her eventual life mate. This is not because she was unimpressed by the indisputable hotness of the man in front of her. Women are sexually attracted to men with larger pupils. Women everywhere prefer men who have symmetrical features and are slightly older, taller, and stronger than they are. By these and other measures, Harold's future father passed the test.

It's just that she was, by nature and upbringing, guarded and slow to trust. She, like 89 percent of all people, did not believe in love at first sight. Moreover, she was compelled to care less about looks than her future husband was. Women, in general, are less visually aroused than men, a trait that has nearly cut the market for pornography in half.

That's because while Pleistocene men could pick their mates on the basis of fertility cues they could discern at a glance, Pleistocene women faced a more vexing problem. Human babies require years to become self-sufficient, and a single woman in a prehistoric environment could not gather enough calories to provide for a family. She was compelled to choose a man not only for insemination, but for companionship and continued support. And to this day, when a woman sets her eyes upon a potential mate, her time frame is different from his.

That's why men will leap into bed more quickly than women. Various research teams have conducted a simple study. They pay an attractive woman to go up to college men and ask them to sleep with her. Seventy- five percent of men say yes to this proposition, in study after study. Then they have an attractive man approach college women with the same offer. Zero percent say yes.

Women have good reasons to be careful. While most men are fertile, there is wide variation among the hairier sex when it comes to stability. Men are much more likely to have drug and alcohol addictions. They are much more likely to murder than women, and much, much more likely to abandon their children. There are more lemons in the male population than in the female population, and women have found that it pays to trade off a few points in the first-impression department in exchange for reliability and social intelligence down the road.

So while Rob was looking at cleavage, Julia was looking for signs of trustworthiness. She didn't need to do this consciously-thousands of years of genetics and culture had honed her trusting sensor.

Marion Eals and Irwin Silverman of York University have conducted studies that suggest women are on average 60 to 70 percent more proficient than men at remembering details from a scene and the locations of objects placed in a room. Over the past few years, Julia had used her powers of observation to discard entire categories of men as potential partners, and some of her choices were idiosyncratic. She rejected men who wore Burberry, because she couldn't see herself looking at the same damn pattern on scarves and raincoats for the rest of her life. Somehow she was able to discern poor spellers just by looking at them, and they made her heart wither. She viewed fragranced men the way Churchill viewed the Germans-they were either at your feet or at your throat. She would have nothing to do with men who wore sports-related jewelry because her boyfriend should not love Derek Jeter more than her. And though there had recently been a fad for men who can cook, she was unwilling to have a serious relationship with anybody who could dice better than she could or who would surprise her with smugly unpretentious Gruyère grilled cheese sandwiches as a makeup present after a fight. It was simply too manipulative.

She looked furtively at Rob as he approached across the sidewalk. Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov of Princeton have found that people can make snap judgments about a person's trustworthiness, competence, aggressiveness and likability within the first tenth of a second. These sorts of first glimpses are astonishingly accurate in predicting how people will feel about each other months later. People rarely revise their first impression, they just become more confident that they are right. In other research, Todorov gave his subjects microsecond glimpses of the faces of competing politicians. His research subjects could predict, with 70 percent accuracy, who would win the election between the two candidates.

Using her own powers of instant evaluation, Julia noticed Rob was good-looking, but he was not one of those men who are so good-looking that they don't need to be interesting. While Rob was mentally undressing her, she was mentally dressing him. At the moment, he was wearing brown corduroy slacks, which did credit to Western civilization, and a deep purplish/maroonish pullover, so that altogether he looked like an elegant eggplant. He had firm but not ferretlike cheeks, suggesting he would age well and some day become the most handsome man in his continuing-care retirement facility.

He was tall, and since one study estimated that each inch of height corresponds to $6,000 of annual salary in contemporary America, that matters. He also radiated a sort of inner calm, which would make him infuriating to argue with. He seemed, to her quick judging eye, to be one of those creatures blessed by fate, who has no deep calluses running through his psyche, no wounds to cover or be wary of.

But just as the positive judgments began to pile up, Julia's frame of mind flipped. Julia knew that one of her least-attractive features was that she had a hypercritical inner smart-ass. She'd be enjoying the company of some normal guy, and suddenly she would begin with the scrutiny. Before it was over, she was Dorothy Parker and the guy was a pool of metaphorical blood on the floor.

Julia's inner smart-ass noticed that Rob was one of those guys who believes nobody really cares if your shoes are shined. His fingernails were uneven. Moreover, he was a bachelor. Julia distrusted bachelors as somehow unserious, and since she would never date a married man, this cut down the pool of men she could uncritically fall in love with.


Excerpted from The Social Animal by David Brooks Copyright © 2011 by David Brooks. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Provocative and fascinating . . . seeks to do nothing less than revolutionize our notions about how we function and conduct our lives.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“[A] fascinating study of the unconscious mind and its impact on our lives . . . Brooks has done well to draw such vivid attention to the wide implications of the accumulated research on the mind and the triggers of human behaviour.”—The Economist

“Multifaceted, compulsively readable . . . Brooks’s considerable achievement comes in his ability to elevate the unseen aspects of private experience into a vigorous and challenging conversation about what we all share.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Brooks surveys a stunning amount of research and cleverly connects it to everyday experience. . . . As in [Bobos in Paradise] he shows genius in sketching archetypes and coining phrases.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Authoritative, impressively learned, and vast in scope.”—Newsweek

“An enjoyably thought-provoking adventure.”—The Boston Globe

“An uncommonly brilliant blend of sociology, intellect and allegory.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred revew)

Meet the Author

David Brooks is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times. He has been a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Atlantic Monthly, and he is a weekly commentator on PBS NewsHour. He is the author of the bestseller Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There and On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense.

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The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 204 reviews.
G_Anderson More than 1 year ago
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.
EstimableElder More than 1 year ago
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.
troutmanPA More than 1 year ago
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.
WisconsinReader More than 1 year ago
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.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
David Brooks is amazing. This book is comprehensive and enlightening and FUNNY. Don't miss it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
catwak More than 1 year ago
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.
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DoranneLongPTMS More than 1 year ago
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; " The marshmallow test turned out to be a better predictor than SAT scores than the IQ tests given to 4 year olds."
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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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