The B&N Podcast: David Brooks on the Dinner that Changed Everything

Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.

On this episode we’re joined by New York Times columnist, radio and television commentator and bestselling author David Brooks, talking about his new book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. Brooks is the bestselling author of books aimed at starting big conversations, including Bobos in Paradise, the Social Animal and The Road to Character. In his past works, he has unfolded observations on the state of contemporary society that draw simultaneously on social science, philosophy and a journalist’s daily charting of the cultural scene; and with The Road to Character he put a particular emphasis on the nature of virtue in 21st-century America. With The Second Mountain, Brooks has offered what may be his most personal work to date, discussing his own struggles with personal relationships and religious faith, and his belief that in order to find fulfillment, we have to turn radically toward community. He joined us in the studio to talk about the difference between happiness and joy, the challenge of writing about faith, and the weekly gathering that’s changed his life.

A thought-provoking exploration of the four major commitments in life that fundamentally shape our identities—from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Road to Character.

Most of us, over the course of our lives, will make four big commitments: 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. Joy comes when we fuse them into one coherent whole, with each of these commitments fortifying and strengthening the others. In The Second Mountain, David Brooks looks at people—from Dostoyevsky to Holocaust survivor Etty Hillesum to African educational entrepreneur Fred Swaniker—who have lived joyous, committed lives, and who have embraced the necessity 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 book 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 and choice, that tells us to be true to ourselves, to march to the beat of our own drummer at the expense of surrendering to a cause, rooting ourselves in a neighborhood, and binding ourselves to others by social solidarity and love. We have taken individualism to the extreme degree—and, in the process, we have torn the social fabric in a thousand different ways. The path to repair is through making deeper commitments.

The Social Animal gave us a tale of human nature. The Road to Character traced the history of a great moral tradition—a riveting examination of morality in our time, but with The Second Mountain, Brooks turns his mind to what happens when we put commitment-making at the center of life, producing one of Brooks’ most personal and revolutionary books yet.

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Author photo of David Brooks (c) Howard Schatz.