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The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement Paperback – January 3, 2012
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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.
From Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
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).
- 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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
The goals of Brooks' book are "to synthesize [recent scientific] findings into one narrative... to describe how this research influences the way we understand human nature... to draw out the social, political, and moral implications of these findings."
He achieves the goal of aggregating the research admirably. I don't consider myself well read on brain and cognitive sciences but I read several science blogs and had encountered many of the info-bites he introduces, many of which are extremely recent. A random sampling of research results he mentions:
"six-month-old babies can spot the different facial features of different monkeyse, even though, to adults, [the monkeys] all look the same."
"Anthropologists tell us that all cultures distinguish colors. When they do, all cultures begin with words for white and black. If the culture adds a word for a third color, it is always red."
Brookes uses a device of narrating the lives of 2 invented people, Erica and Harold. For example, to illustrate ideas on decision making, he introduces Erica's coworker Raymond whose "knowledge of his own shortcomings was encyclopedic. He knew he had trouble comparing more than two options at a time... so he would build brackets and move from one binary comparison to the next. He knew he liked hearing evidence that confirmed his opinions, so he asked Erica and others to give him the counterevidence first," etc. After describing a situation within the context of the narrative, Brooks jumps in to elaborate with more information. I feared this tactic would be too forced and would thereby fall on its face but he actually pulls it off!Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
All items received in great condition, ( including " Distant Water" ).Published 3 days ago by luvzamazon
Man so much fluff. I 2anted to like this but didn't. Maybe 9 cool facts surrounded by fictional story of a guy growing up.Published 8 days ago by fee services
What makes us human? You can answer that question biologically or you can answer it spiritually, but no matter how you answer, it is undeniable that humans are social creatures and... Read morePublished 8 days ago by Reid Mccormick
One of my favorite all time books. Takes the last 30 years of social science and turns into a novel. Just brilliant. My copy is completely worn out from reading it so many times. Read morePublished 13 days ago by Chris
This is for sure one of the most interesting books I ever read, and I read a lot. David Brooks writes about a number of life-related subjects by merging an engaging story with... Read morePublished 15 days ago by Marcos Barros
Certainly well researched and brimming with excellent edifying tidbits but remarkably detached from mainstream. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer