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The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life Hardcover – April 16, 2019
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“Deeply moving, frequently eloquent and extraordinarily incisive.”—The Washington Post
Every so often, you meet people who radiate joy—who seem to know why they were put on this earth, who glow with a kind of inner light. Life, for these people, has often followed what we might think of as a two-mountain shape. They get out of school, they start a career, and they begin climbing the mountain they thought they were meant to climb. Their goals on this first mountain are the ones our culture endorses: to be a success, to make your mark, to experience personal happiness. But when they get to the top of that mountain, something happens. They look around and find the view . . . unsatisfying. They realize: This wasn’t my mountain after all. There’s another, bigger mountain out there that is actually my mountain.
And so they embark on a new journey. On the second mountain, life moves from self-centered to other-centered. They want the things that are truly worth wanting, not the things other people tell them to want. They embrace a life of interdependence, not independence. They surrender to a life of commitment.
In The Second Mountain, David Brooks explores the four commitments that define a life of meaning and purpose: 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. Brooks looks at a range of people who have lived joyous, committed lives, and who have embraced the necessity and beauty 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, that tells us to be true to ourselves, at the expense of surrendering to a cause, rooting ourselves in a neighborhood, binding ourselves to others by social solidarity and love. We have taken individualism to the extreme—and in the process we have torn the social fabric in a thousand different ways. The path to repair is through making deeper commitments. In The Second Mountain, Brooks shows what can happen when we put commitment-making at the center of our lives.
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“David Brooks’s gift—as he might put it in his swift, engaging way—is for making obscure but potent social studies research accessible and even startling.”—The New York Times Book Review
“At his best, Brooks is a normative version of Malcolm Gladwell, culling from a wide array of scientists and thinkers to weave an idea bigger than the sum of its parts.”—USA Today
“Brooks’s considerable achievement comes in his ability to elevate the unseen aspects of private experience into a vigorous and challenging conversation about what we all share.”—San Francisco Chronicle
About the Author
- Publisher : Random House; 1st edition (April 16, 2019)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0812993268
- ISBN-13 : 978-0812993264
- Item Weight : 1.4 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.39 x 1.3 x 9.52 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #24,247 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Brooks now sees the struggle for personal advancement—for more money, status and power—as merely a lesser mountain for people to climb. The pursuit of happiness, the American dream...these individualistic strivings have been too emphasized in the contemporary West. There is a second mountain that touches the deeper aspects of our humanity. One climbs it by self-sacrifice and commitment to spouse and community. Above all, one realizes that true joy in life comes from believing and serving something greater than yourself.
Brooks further believes this journey has importance for all of America. It is the baby-boomers hyper-focus on individual achievement that is at the root of our current political malaise. Only by a societal return to an other-centered life can we overcome our tribalism and divisions.
If this journey sounds rather familiar it is because it is the same voyage many people have made throughout history. Thus, Brooks spends most of the book focused on the biographies and thoughts of great men and women with similar experiences. His own personal journey is fittingly secondary.
But this is where the book has a fundamental weakness. While Brooks and those he cites can provide vivid testimonials of their experience there is no effort to ground any of this in a scientific account of human nature, a history of the world or our particular species, etc.
After reading the book one might be left with the impression one has when someone describes how they found God and how that pulled them out of depression, anxiety, lethargy or some other predicament. No one would want to tell somebody to abandon a belief that had such beneficial effects, but a personal experience is just that—personal. Whether it translates from one person to another is highly doubtful.
So while I admire Brooks’ bravery in writing such a counter-cultural work, I have to conclude that the book’s overall argument relies on nothing but testimonials. For someone who gives annual awards to social scientists this seems like a great lacunae. Why should I trust these testimonials if my experience of the world is very different?
In short, if people read this book and become convinced to be other-centered and discover great joy in their life, I would be the last person to dissuade them. But from David Brooks I wanted more. I wanted some account of human nature that would ground this other-directedness in something rational. A powerful testimonial but, in the end, only a testimonial. In my opinion, that makes The Second Mountain an enjoyable but not an essential book.
There's a huge, concerted, well-funded effort in this country to promote the very elements that Brooks belatedly laments. The corporate, right-wing, "conservative" view is to bash anything and everything about government programs, social organizations, community organizations, unions, religious efforts at social justice (well, except the fundamentalist "prosperity Gospel" idea that society does best when you get rich, of course), and every other collective effort to support the broader society. Unfortunately, Brooks (willfully, I believe) ignores this pernicious activity. That message is, "Have a problem? Don't look to government. Have issues in your life? It's your problem; don't look any farther than your own nose because it's your fault. Concerned about society as a whole? There's no solution outside of the individual--don't look to an organization to help you do anything about it."
People lamenting the cult of individualism need to look to the sources of--and the huge amounts of money and power behind--the messaging of individualism, and the denigration of social and community institutions that have been the bedrock of American democracy.
For a great article on this intentional social destruction, go to bostonreview dot net and search on The Privatization of Hope by Ronald Aronson. He writes...
"What a spectacle is offered by the privatization of hope: the displacement from the social to the individual, the growth of the personal at the expense of the social, and the remaking of the social into the biographical. These are driven, among other things, by relations of power and domination and by the overwhelming force exerted on every aspect of our beings by the economy and its priorities. Under these conditions, basic social impulses such as the need to contribute to a wider community become other than themselves without completely losing their original character, which abides in a repressed form. We can imagine a rebalancing of the social and the personal as a kind of “return of the repressed” but only through a transformation of the economic order that has been driving it.
"That order has imposed a deliberate ideological and political project aiming to erode social connectedness and conviction. The first politician who sought to implement this revived Hobbesianism was British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: “There is no such thing as society, only individuals and families,” she famously declared, which turned out to prophesy this transformation. Economics was a method whose “object is to change the soul.” A generation later in the United Kingdom, the United States, and elsewhere, that object appears to have been realized.
"We have witnessed an immensely effective, well organized, and lavishly funded effort to reshape values, ideas, and attitudes. Writers working for right-wing think tanks such as the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation have implored us to turn away from treating the public realm as a terrain for improvement and change. They have been teaching cynicism about collective action and encouraging instead individual responsibility, personal initiative, and the centrality of private activities."
I wish Brooks would accept responsibility for his "conservative" brethrens' contributions to--and support of--this mess instead of blaming the victims once again.
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He notes that his wife climbed her mountains in reverse. He is divorced.
I’m female and was forced to do things for others growing up. I now intend to restrain my trained generosity to do stuff for me. See a pattern?
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs gets quoted on page 11. As ever.
Probably a useful book for a bloke.
of the book less interesting, too focussed on David Brooks personal history, his sense of Jewishness & Christianity which were too much a US view of the world, and by definition rather insular.
Better to just read Tolstoy.