Tim Boroughs's Reviews > The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

The Social Animal by David  Brooks
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Apr 08, 12

Read in April, 2012

This is a very readable and enjoyable book written with enthusiasm and great care. The main idea put forward in the work is that humans are strongly directed over their lifespans by the unconscious mind and that our conscious mind deals very much in the domain of surface level cognition and is functionally subordinate to the unconscious. By drawing on recent and past research in the areas of psychology, and the social sciences more broadly, Brooks illuminates the ways in which our unconscious is formed by early life experience, genetic inheritance and social context and how the unconscious provides the orientation for our actions and sets the boundaries for our reasoning capacities. In so doing he refutes the notion of humans as fundamentally rational calculating actors and he argues that we have deeply rooted needs for social connection and reciprocation. Brooks illustrates his themes by showing the interplay of the conscious and unconscious mind over the lifespan of a fictional couple, Harold and Erica who ultimately have successful lives. Brooks shows how this success is not so much the product of this couple exercising their conscious free will but more so through the subtle guiding ways of the unconscious. At points Brooks could have expanded more on the research and books he cites to underpin his arguments, particularly as they come from a tantalising array of research arenas, yet no doubt he has done this to sustain the pace of the book and not to discourage the general reader by providing an easily digestible amount of detail. Whilst Brooks draws in a good deal of very recent research two quite old studies stood out for me as being key foundations to the arguments he puts forth, these being the great work of Bowlby and his theories attachment and Geertz on the nature and influence of culture. Overall this book is a very understandable synthesis and precis of some very compelling avenues in research into the mind and social systems.
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