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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.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Now try to picture that...see, it's just not a good look.
Brooks does a fantastic job of taking very scientific data and presenting in an engaging and entertaining way through his use of two fictional characters.
David Brooks does a great job weaving numerous concepts from social sciences, particularly psychology and sociology.
I decided to read it after reading his The Road to Character book. I would rate both of them very highly - each takes the curiosity spirit into some fascinating depths about human... Read morePublished 9 hours ago by R^5
This is an ambitious book. How do you take a survey type approach of all modern thought on human behavior and thought and package it into one book? Read morePublished 1 day ago by JCB Project
Read deliberately and pause often. Live with these ideas about our mysterious unconscious mind for weeks as you move through Harold's life. Read morePublished 12 days ago by Gloria Hepplewhite Gagich
Excellently researched and informative, Brooks' Social Animal has something for everyone distributed throughout. Read morePublished 14 days ago by Just Desserts
The story in this book might lack some "soul" or character in the sense of a fictional book but i think that is done on purpose to not to distract from the real message of... Read morePublished 26 days ago by AH from Brooklyn NY
Terrific interplay of social & neurological science exemplified in a charming relationship. The language is always understandable and drawn from both a literary & scientific... Read morePublished 29 days ago by Nancy Kerrigan
A synthesis for all the pop psychological studies one may come across about here and there... enjoyable and informative but don't expect rigorous and in depth analysis for so broad... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Gary Wong