Chris Lemery'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
Jun 29, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: audiobooks, nonfiction
Read in May, 2012

Let me start by saying that I enjoy David Brooks' NYT columns and his weekly appearances on the PBS Newshour. He's a conservative, but he has a sense of humor about him and is quite level-headed in his arguments. I was looking forward to listening to this audiobook, but I found it pretty uneven and ultimately somewhat disappointing. The book's main goal is to explore how neuroscience demonstrates that our unconscious and our social nature play a larger role in our lives than previously thought. I thought the early parts of this exploration were interesting, as he talked about mirror neurons and the way babies bond with their mothers, both of which were interesting and new to me.

The biggest problem with the book is that Brooks attempts to meld this narrative of neuroscience to a fictional narrative about a couple, Harold and Erica. Brooks follows Harold and Erica from their births to deaths as a vehicle for discussing various life stages and events. This is a novel and interesting approach, but the trouble is that I ended up becoming more interested in Harold and Erica and forgetting most of what Brooks was using them to illustrate. There were even many points where I was saying, "what about Harold and Erica?" This therefore completely turns the book on its head and it sometimes made it difficult to separate the fictional narrative from the neuroscience discussion. I was also bothered by the big gaps in the life course of Harold and Erica and the lack of discussion of their decision (or lack thereof) not to have children. That said, I did enjoy learning about these characters and they are fairly well realized, so maybe the execution rather than the idea of the fictional anchor is the problem.

One final note: I listened to this audiobook in a very chopped way over the course of a month or so. Therefore, my difficulties in remembering specifics about the book probably has a lot to do with that.

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