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

The Social Animal by David  Brooks
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's review
May 09, 12

bookshelves: adult, not-graphic, nonfiction

The research being done today reminds us of the relative importance of emotion over pure reason, social connections over individual choice, character over IQ, emergent, organic systems over linear, mechanistic ones, and the idea that we have multiple selves over the idea that we have a single self.

Reading this was an interesting experience. Brooks is a conservative columnist and I'm a liberal, so we come from very different starting points; he takes the same information and comes to somewhat different conclusions, implications, and applications than I do. Still, we do meet in the middle--or maybe off to the side in an entirely different, non-left-right spectrum--through the topics he's covering.

There's a ton of excellent information in the book that corresponds with things I've been reading, thinking, and believing for years. I'm familiar with much of his source material, in fact, having previously encountered it in other sources; and, as a lay-reader, I hadn't realized this vein of thinking had become so ubiquitous and prevalent. I'm just not sure Brooks is the best vehicle to be delivering the information.

Seeing the information presented from a different perspective than mine was a good thing because it made me think and broadened me. What gave me pause was his device for delivering the information. He shares the research as a narrative, the life story of two fictional people. This makes the book highly readable and enjoyable, but it makes it hard to distinguish between the information and Brooks. His method of citation compounds the issue, because he doesn't note anything in the text itself. Each entry in his "Notes" section at the back of the book begins by quoting the first five words of the relevant section of his writing so you can go back and track it down later, but it's not marked in any way during the actual reading.

And some of it seems disconnected from anything, either the research or the story; just bits of opinions he's thrown out without much relevance or context. For instance, the chapter titled "Learning" begins with this:

Popular, good-looking, and athletic children are the subjects of relentless abuse. While still young and impressionable, they are force-fed a diet of ugly duckling fables to which they cannot possibly relate. They are compelled to endure endless Disney movies that tell them that true beauty lies inside. In high school, the most interesting teachers favor the brainy students who are rendered ambitious by social resentments and who have time on Saturday nights to sit at home and develop adult-pleasing interests in Miles Davis or Lou Reed. After Graduation the popular and good-looking have few role models save for local weathermen and game-show hosts, while the nerds can emulate any number of modern moguls, from Bill Gates to Sergey Brin. For as it is written, the last shall be first and the geek shall inherit the Earth.

Huh? Not only is this not cited in the "Notes" in any way, it seems largely unrelated to what follows in his story and out of line with the general research and themes he's sharing, not to mention reality itself. So it makes me a bit more skeptical about his perspective's ability to convey the information in a helpful way.

Still, I got a lot out of reading the book, both enjoyment and stimulation, and would recommend it to others who want a casual exploration of a well synthesized wide range of ideas related to our social natures.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Jennifer I was under the impression that the above quote was his attempt at facetious humor.

Chris I assumed that's what he was going for, but I didn't see how it made sense in light of the research, themes, and conclusions he presented. In terms of the example I used, his larger point is that while traditional wisdom holds that it's bookish nerds who are destined for success, he believes social intelligence is much more important. Yet traditional wisdom also says those with social intelligence are popular and idolized. So if the socially skilled are both popular when young and those destined for success as adults . . . how is that paragraph humorous? What/who exactly is he mocking?

Jennifer Hmm... now I want to go back and see what he wrote about after the quote, b/c I can't remember. I'm puzzled. Ever since I read that he's a conservative, I've been waiting for the blatant disregard for logic (or at least my type of logic). Maybe that was it and I missed it. (I'm only about 1/3rd finished, though.)

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