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The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement [Kindle Edition]

David Brooks
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (350 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $8.82
You Save: $7.18 (45%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

With unequaled insight and brio, New York Times columnist David Brooks has long explored and explained the way we live. Now 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, told through the lives of one composite American couple, Harold and Erica. Drawing on a wealth of current research from numerous disciplines, Brooks takes Harold and Erica from infancy to old age, illustrating a fundamental new understanding of human nature along the way: The unconscious mind, it turns out, is not a dark, vestigial place, but a creative one, where most of the brain’s work gets done. This is the realm where character is formed and where our most important life decisions are made—the natural habitat of The Social Animal. Brooks reveals the deeply social aspect of our minds and exposes the bias in modern culture that overemphasizes rationalism, individualism, and IQ. He demolishes conventional definitions of success and looks toward a culture based on trust and humility. The Social Animal is a moving intellectual adventure, a story of achievement and a defense of progress. 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.

BONUS: Includes new material.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

--Walter Isaacson

A Letter from Author David Brooks


© Josh Haner, The New York Times
Several years ago I did some reporting on why so many kids drop out of high school, despite all rational incentives. That took me quickly to studies of early childhood and research on brain formation. Once I started poking around that realm, I found that people who study the mind are giving us an entirely new perspective on who we are and what it takes to flourish.

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.

From 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.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1691 KB
  • Print Length: 449 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B009I6OOC2
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (March 8, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004IK8PFK
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,505 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
349 of 383 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My thoughts March 11, 2011
Format:Hardcover
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.

You can get a good feel for the topics he covers from the chapter titles:

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

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).

Book's strengths:

- 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.

- 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:
* The hidden role emotions play in making decisions.
* How mirror neurons in the brain are wired to mimic the person we're talking to.
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835 of 936 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of breadth, but disappointingly little depth February 18, 2011
By Joanna
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I don't share his politics but I like David Brooks on THE NEWS HOUR for his thoughtfulness and decency, and in his columns for his well-articulated ideas and remarkable way with words. I read a preview of this book in THE NEW YORKER and felt my interest piqued. Parts were quite amusing, and the thesis that we are far more ruled by the unconscious than the rational mind sounded like something I'd like to read. Disappointingly, the book has not lived up to my expectations, though it has some wonderful writing and fascinating ideas here and there.

The major problems for me were that the hypothetical, stereotyped characters grew tiresome and even offensive over time and that not enough that was new or weighty materialized. The book combines the fictional stories of protagonists Harold and Erica with lots of recycled information from various neuro-scientific, psychological, and other studies that scores of popular writers have already mined. The reasoning here seems circular in that Brooks invents this implausible pair to illustrate his idea that noncognitive skills like "character" and "street smarts" lead to happiness and fulfillment, then cherry-picks studies to support his made-up characters and preconceived view.

Tracking Harold and Erica's imaginary life stories ("the happiest story you've ever read"), the book purports to explain what makes for the most successful infancy, schooling, young adulthood, love, career, culture, self control, morality, freedom, commitment, and more. The reach is so broad and the evidence that directly supports it so scant that I never entirely trusted Brooks' conclusions. Further, the use of allegorical characters for hundreds of pages to illustrate his contructs failed to move or engage me in the way an actual novel or real life story might.
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346 of 409 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wanted to Enjoy This Book March 8, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I wanted to enjoy this book -- a grand idea to integrate disparate threads of human research by a smart writer I enjoy reading in the New York Times, a book profiled over two pages in Newsweek and featured by the Scientific American Book Club -- but unfortunately I found it ultimately unsatisfying. For someone who hasn't read about modern psychology advances, this may be a good primer. But for most people the wide range and added space of a narrative device results in too shallow a depth to be fulfilling. It's not that Brooks has things wrong or couldn't go deeper if he tried; it's that there is not room.

In the introduction Brooks explains "I'm writing this story, first, because while researchers in a wide variety of fields have shone their flashlights into different parts of the cave of the unconscious, illuminating different corners and openings, much of their work is done in academic silos. I'm going to try and synthesize their findings into one narrative." This is exactly what he does, combining the wide expanses of psychology from neuroscience to social groups and behavioral economics, using a literary device used by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 1760 for the book "Emile". We follow two fictional characters through their life, seeing how recent scientific findings shape them and their inner life. Some of this fiction is witty and insightful, all of it is well-written, but as fiction it is not enough. It does not work as literature that shows not tells. The science is fascinating, and fully referenced, but the sketches are too fast and pass too quickly. The insights and implications of human connection, friendship and love are illuminating and sometimes exhilarating, but somehow it doesn't quite gel.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars It is definitely five stars
I have never read anything quite like this. David Brooks did a masterful job integrating the wisdom of the ages with current research to illustrate (as opposed to explain) how our... Read more
Published 1 hour ago by r sloss
1.0 out of 5 stars Nothing to rave about...
By the time I was done reading, I hardly knew exactly what to take away...the whole story was inconclusive, with few concrete lessons to take away and just a bunch of scientific... Read more
Published 2 days ago by Deborah
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Perfect quality, fast shipping
Published 5 days ago by Andrew Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book
Brooks wrote an entertaining, complex story strengthened by careful research. It is amazing to think about the effort and thought that was needed to do that.
Published 5 days ago by Kathy Kvach
5.0 out of 5 stars The impact of time
Amazing insight into complicated relationships that evolve as the individual matures.
Published 24 days ago by annie
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
fascinating book. well written
Published 1 month ago by William J. Morrow
5.0 out of 5 stars I was a bit bored by the book as a whole
I was a bit bored by the book as a whole, but some parts of it are very interesting and worth reading.
Published 1 month ago by Will Allen III
5.0 out of 5 stars David Brooks is a wonderful storyteller and is full of useful and some...
David Brooks is a wonderful storyteller and is full of useful and some not-so-useful information. I really liked the book and I really like David Brooks.
Published 1 month ago by Rocky
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
good read for human behavior lovers
Published 1 month ago by v.delsney
4.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed it. He's a sensible guy
I enjoyed it. He's a sensible guy.
Published 1 month ago by Donald E. Brown
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More About the Author

David Brooks is a senior editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD and a contributing editor at NEWSWEEK. Formerly a reporter and editor at THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, he's had articles in THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE WASHINGTON POST and other publications.

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