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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 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.
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Guest Reviewer: Walter Isaacson on The Social Animal
Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time magazine. He is the author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and of Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and daughter.
David Brooks has written an absolutely fascinating book about how we form our emotions and character. Standing at the intersection of brain science and sociology, and writing with the wry wit of a James Thurber, he explores the unconscious mind and how it shapes the way we eat, love, live, vacation, and relate to other people. In The Social Animal, he makes the recent revolution in neuroscience understandable, and he applies it to those things we have the most trouble knowing how to teach: What is the best way to build true relationships? How do we instill imaginative thinking? How do we develop our moral intuitions and wisdom and character? Brooks has always been a keen observer of the way we live. Now he takes us one layer down, to why we live that way.
An Amazon Interview with David Brooks
We talked with David Brooks about, among other things, Jonathan Franzen, Freud, and Brooks's own unfamiliar emotions, just before the publication of The Social Animal. You can read the full interview on Omnivoracious, the Amazon books blog, including this exchange:
Amazon.com: Speaking of Tolstoy, I bet a lot of people are going to quoting the first line of Anna Karenina to you: "Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Is there a consistency between what makes a family happy, the way that this family turns out to be?
Brooks: You know, I never bought Tolstoy's line.
Amazon.com: I didn't either.
Brooks: I didn't know many happy families that were alike. One of the things you learn is that we're all so much more complex. We all contain multitudes, so someone who might be a bully in one circumstance is incredibly compassionate in other circumstances. We have multiple selves, and the idea that we can have a very simple view of who we are, what our character is, that's actually not right.
One of the things all this research shows you is how humble you have to be in the face of the complexity of human nature. We've got a 100 billion neurons in the brain, and it's just phenomenally complicated. You take a little child who says, "I'm a tiger," and pretends to be a tiger. Well that act of imagination--conflating this thing "I" with this thing "tiger"--is phenomenally complicated. No computer could ever do that, but it's happening below the level of awareness. It seems so easy to us. And so one of the things these people learn is they contain these hidden strengths, but at the same time they have to be consciously aware of how modest they can be in understanding themselves and proceed on that basis.
A Letter from Author David Brooks
© Josh Haner, The New York Times
We’re used to a certain story of success, one that emphasizes getting good grades, getting the right job skills and making the right decisions. But these scientists were peering into the innermost mind and shedding light on the process one level down, in the realm of emotions, intuitions, perceptions, genetic dispositions and unconscious longings.
I’ve spent several years with their work now, and it’s changed my perspective on everything. In this book, I try to take their various findings and weave them together into one story.
This is not a science book. I don’t answer how the brain does things. I try to answer what it all means. I try to explain how these findings about the deepest recesses of our minds should change the way we see ourselves, raise our kids, conduct business, teach, manage our relationships and practice politics. This story is based on scientific research, but it is really about emotion, character, virtue and love. We’re not rational animals, or laboring animals; we’re social animals. We emerge out of relationships and live to bond with each other and connect to larger ideas.About the Author:
David Brooks writes an op-ed column for The New York Times. Previously, he has been a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Atlantic Monthly, and an op-ed editor at The Wall Street Journal. He is currently a commentator on PBS NewsHour and contributes regularly to Meet the Press and NPR’s All Things Considered. He is the author of 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. His articles have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Forbes, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, Commentary, The Public Interest, and many other magazines. David Brooks lives in Maryland.
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