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The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  18,705 Ratings  ·  1,587 Reviews

With unequaled insight and brio, New York Times columnist David Brooks has long explored and explained the way we live. Now Brooks turns to the building blocks of human flourishing in a multilayered, profoundly illuminating work grounded in everyday life. This is the story of how success happens, told through the lives of one composite American
Paperback, 448 pages
Published January 3rd 2012 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2011)
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Alexei G I can now answer my own question. "Adaptation to Life" by by George Eman Vaillant. It is a book on the results of a longitudal study of a life…moreI can now answer my own question. "Adaptation to Life" by by George Eman Vaillant. It is a book on the results of a longitudal study of a life development of 250+ promising Harvard graduates, examining how they have developed. I have not read the book yet, but the reviews are very good. The only issue I see is the cross-section. Promising Harvard graduates narrow down the selection to people who are already most likely to be successful, and does entail a certain amount of privilege to start, especially given that they were selected in late 1930s-early 1940s.
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Clif Hostetler
Oct 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: current-events
Before reading this book I believed that I and most other humans used our rational minds to make life's decisions. After reading this book I now know that the subconscious mind is a raging monster and the rational mind is the midget hanging on for dear life who thinks that since his hands are on the reigns that everything is under control. The following is an example of how some of the most important parts of our lives depend on guidance from our subconscious minds with very little training or f ...more
Dec 10, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The premise of this book is a wonderful one and it seems like this book would have been both a challenge and really fun book to write. In trying to describe modern advances in psychological sciences, Brooks takes the unusual and potentially exciting tactic of weaving these findings into the lives of two fictional characters. Thus the book holds the promise of straddling an interesting narrative and yet providing an informative look at the way the mind works.

Unfortunately, the book overreached a
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The Social Animal is a ‘lost opportunity’ book. Similar to The Black Swan, I can recommend portions for its startling insight into the patterns of thought from which we must extricate ourselves to progress and reflect. Unfortunately, those insights are packaged in a specific way, and most unfortunately, they are packaged by David Brooks.

The book, which rapidly oscillates laundry-lists of half-baked research summations told without sufficient reflection or implication (or really sufficient inform
I listen to David Brooks because he has a way looking at the world that adds depth to my perceptions. As a result of hearing his point of view, I can articulate my own positions better. Between the two of us, we do not cover all possible iterations of an argument, but we make a wider circle of opinion. He seems to be a man I could negotiate with, and come up with a better solution than if either he or I made decisions on our own. Well, anyway, he’d have to negotiate if he wanted my participation ...more
Mar 08, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
*A beast of a book*

Oh my goodness.


What was that?

Those responses are not the typical ones I have after completing a book, but they're the ones that have been circulating in my head after finishing (and trying to digest all that went on in) David Brooks' _The Social Animal_.

Starting out the book, I was pretty optimistic and hopeful. There were tons of copies in the New Book collection in the library (that's got to be a good sign, right?), the content seemed deliciously irresistible (who doesn
I read this after reading this review - Really, I don’t have much to add to that review.

In part this book is a kind of summary of lots of other books I’ve read – and these are mentioned along the way. In that way it reminded me a bit of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – although, I think this was perhaps a more interesting summary. He even discusses Bourdieu at one point and the idea of cultural capital in relation to education, this
Jun 03, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While i like david brooks a lot actually, and often find his political commentary interesting and expressed well, i was ultimately dissapointed in his book, the social animal. The device of harold and erica was so filled with boring and unimportant information and stereotypes that i almost gave the book up. What saved it was the interesting research, though it would have been a much better book had it been a discussion of research with small examples woven in rather than the other way around. Th ...more
Apr 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
This is a book which brings the latest neuroscience and psychological research to us via a story. A story about the lives of two people, Erica and Harold. They grow up, get married and grow old together.

The book tells us that our brains love stories, and perhaps that is why the author decided to choose this vehicle to bring us all this cutting edge research. It's a method which acts as a cohesive umbrella, pulling in all sorts of contemporary ideas and weaving them together into a scenario - chi
Feb 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Children are coached on how to jump through a thousand scholastic hoops. Yet by far the most important decisions they will make are about whom to marry and whom to befriend, what to love and what to despise, and how to control impulses. On these matters, they are almost entirely on their own. We are good at talking about material incentives, but bad about talking about emotions and intuitions. We are good at teaching technical skills, but when it comes to the most important things, like charact ...more
Mar 14, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Only intermittently interesting. NY Times columnist Brooks has done a lot of research on brain science, and popularizes it in this book using a couple fictional characters, Harold and Erica. He takes you through their lives from childhood to old age. The book begins with his statement, "This is the happiest story you will ever read."

I cannot figure out why he wrote that. There is nothing particularly happy about Harold and Erica. They don't seem especially happy; and their lives are neither unus
Adela-diana Almasi
I just finished this book a couple of weeks ago and overall, this book was a disappointment. It's the kind of book that seems awesome, fun and insightful at the beginning and then just goes downhill from there.
It didn't go as far as giving it up, but the last chapters I just skimmed through, still hoping somehow that something interesting will happen, or at least that I'll get it over with.

Don't get me wrong, there are a few good things to this book, just that....not that many. It's easy to read
Larry Bassett
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am very impressed with David Brooks, sometimes so impressed that I forget to be very critical of his thoughts and ideas. Sometimes I realize I don’t agree with him But it doesn’t even really matter. This book is filled with ideas and illusions to books and data and studies. I try to imagine I had filled with all this information and then trying to make sense of it and comprehend what it all means.

This book is predominately structured as the story of the life and lives of a man and woman. Occas
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Here's what I absolutely hated about the book. The whole Harold-Erica concocted storyline. Really, could Brooks BE any more rigid with gender roles and adopt a more hetero-sexist view of the world?! A book that is discussing people as social animals should approach the topic with keener eye that would examine how much we, as animals, socialize ourselves through constructions of race, gender, etc. and that these constructions are fluid...changeable...I would go so far as to say "bendy" (just beca ...more
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's a lot about this book that could have gone really wrong. In fact, it's the perfect recipe for disaster. I can imagine the pitch to the publisher, "I'm going to tell a fictional story whose purpose is to briefly summarize each of of more than 50 popular books and bring the disparate ideas together in a way that supports an over-arching, but somewhat nebulous, thesis that humans are primary social and rarely rational. Oh and I'm going to throw in some literature, pop culture, religion and ...more
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me ages to read this book. It is full of theories of why humans behave in the ways they behave. These many ideas backed up by numerous studies are then put into a fictional format using a sample family. This made the book a combination of a sociology text and a modern novel. I like David Brooks articles and books on societies and how they adapt to change. At first I was not interested in the fictional family he used in this book to illustrate his observations about American society today ...more
Kressel Housman
I must say, I’ve never read a book quite like this one. On one hand, it was similar to a novel in that it’s a cradle-to-grave account of the lives of two fictional characters, Harold and Erica. On the other, because it’s more of an intellectual history of the two characters, it doesn’t always employ the usual elements of fiction, like dialogue and drama. There’s some, but there’s even more philosophizing on the part of author, David Brooks. Basically, the book violates the cardinal rule of ficti ...more
Apr 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well, David, this is a new you. I must admit I am totally suprised and delighted by this new David, witty, racy, uproariously funny. I have loved the old David for a while now, the one I see sparring with Mark Shields on The Jim Lehrer News Hour Friday nights when I have not fallen asleep.
That David, bespeckled, elegantly dressed, represents The Conervative viewpoint. . . the REAL Conservative viewpoint as expressed by many of our forefathers and formulated for modern times by Barry Goldwater.
Nov 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 Stars!

Wonderful Book.....
I'm taking off a 1/2 star for a 'few' spots in the book that I was a little bored with ---(BECAUSE I'm so SMART) I had read a few of the things the author wrote about in this book BEFORE...."Mr. David Brooks". (but I'll forgive you).

However....gotta share a cute funny in the book (which I haven't read in other reviews)---which by the way --so many of the other reveiws on this book are so GREAT --- I figure I don't need to repeat what has been said....

but nobod
Bookmarks Magazine
With the exception of the New York Times Book Review, which panned the story of Harold and Erica as well as Brooks’s conclusions, most critics deemed Brooks a capable storyteller but otherwise spent little time appraising his literary skills. Science forms the crux of The Social Animal, and the reviewers’ agreement with or refutation of Brooks’s claims constituted the greater part of their reviews. A gifted social observer, Brooks makes some valid points regarding the duality of the human mind, ...more
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Não somos quem pensamos ser.

Se tivesse de escrever em poucas palavras a mensagem que este livro me passou é essa. Uma frase que eu já tinha ciência através de outras obras, mas que nessa é muito bem contada.
Inspirado na obra de Rosseau, de 1760, Emílio ou Da Educação, que trata de como seres humanos podem ser educados, o autor criou dois personagens fictícios, Harold e Erica, e conta toda sua trajetória desde o nascimento até sua morte, mostrando o poder do inconsciente nas nossas vidas e nas d
Jess Dollar
Dec 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow... a must read. I didn't love this book. I think a better word is "cherished". I loved the concept, I loved the breadth of it, I loved that it made me cry while talking about neuroscience.
How to describe's a book on neuroscience and what this new field is teaching us about being human. I've read a bunch of books like this, so many that I get annoyed when I read the inevitable references to the same studies, same researchers, same books. I think it must be a rule that every book on t
Nick Davies
Apr 23, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
An interesting idea - that of writing a book about sociology and the importance of both ‘rational’ and ‘emotional’ (or instinctive) thought - but doing so in the style of a novel. It’s a framework which I felt worked well in places, covering a wide range of areas of sociology and psychology, as well as diving into politics as well.

However, it did prove a bit disappointing overall, to me. My main reasons for this were that the ‘novel’ style sat slightly uncomfortably, because it meant that the c
Apr 24, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is definitely worth a read if you're interested in how the brain works. Brooks sets out to show that intelligence alone can't make a person successful. He argues that the key to success lies in harnessing the power of the subconscious mind--which, as the book's title suggests, requires the right kinds of interactions with people and institutions. Brooks explores this theory and its implications for learning, decision making, morality, politics and a lot of other areas. As he makes his case, ...more
Keytrice Castro
I read The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, by David Brooks, after seeing it on’s Bestsellers list. I have one major problem with this book, so I’ll mention it first—the hypothetical (and very stereotypical) characters he uses in the book. I understand the subject matter is weighty and its difficult to find true examples that exemplify everything he discusses in the book, but that’s all the more reason to stick to real anecdotes—the thoughtfulness ...more
Mar 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
David Brooks follows the lives of two fictitious characters, Harold and Erica, from birth to death. As other reviewers have mentioned, the plot of their lives is not wholly realistic, but that is not the strength of this book. The true strength lies in the formidable insight that Brooks brings into their inner thoughts. He alternates pieces of their lives with discussions from scholarly and scientific works. His discussions are always very relevant. I am familiar, in my own field, with the liter ...more
Troy Blackford
I couldn't wait for the inanity to be over.

This book gives you the impression that David Brooks always wanted to be a novelist rather than a journalist. About 70%-80% of this book is a fictionalized account of two people, who go through dramatic changes whenever it suits the popular psychology Brooks wants to talk about. It almost seems like he wrote a bad novel, his publisher responded with 'What do you expect us to do with this?' and he added in a little bit of pop psychology cliches to repack
Friederike Knabe
Interesting in parts. I am not sure the integration of the life story of a fictional couple from infantcy to old age with popularized aspects of neurological, social and other science really works. One can argue the fundamental positions but they tend to get lost in an overoad of details. On the other hand Brooks uses broad generalizations that are not substantiated.
Jan 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
I can’t fault the book for being ambitious. It attempts to be a character-driven work of nonfiction—aggregating compelling statistics and factoids from various areas of the research realms (sociology, tech, neuroscience, politics, etc.)—delivered through the vehicle of a married couple’s life. But its unevenness is inevitable. A book can’t do proper character work when communicating information is the driving motivator rather than story. Also it can’t be avoided that certain aspects of the human ...more
Sunil Maulik
Jan 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I would give this book ten stars if I could! David Brooks has truly written a magnum opus - one that seamlessly weaves together decades of research in the neuroscience and psychology of the mind into a single coherent narrative that is both a literary and technological tour de force. Starting with an (admittedly slightly hokey) premise that follows the birth, childhood, adolescence and adulthood of two completely opposite archetypes trapped in the ubiquitous present, Brooks cleverly overlays a w ...more
Dec 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With the advent of just a few things, the science of social psychology has changed significantly.

First of all, scientists used to only be able to study humans from outside their own brains, but now fMRI helps us understand what happens inside the deep recesses of the cognitive and emotional brain as people operate. What we’ve found is one of the most profound discoveries of the human brain; about 82 percent of what we do is subconscious or unconscious, built on a deep history of human nature, g
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Madison Mega-Mara...: The Social Animal by David Brooks 1 2 Feb 20, 2012 08:33PM  
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David Brooks is a political and cultural commentator. He is currently a columnist for The New York Times and a commentator on PBS NewsHour. He has previously worked for Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, Newsweek, The Atlantic Monthly and National Public Radio.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

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“Much of life is about failure, whether we acknowledge it or not, and your destiny is profoundly shaped by how effectively you learn from and adapt to failure.” 41 likes
“people who succeed tend to find one goal in the distant future and then chase it through thick and thin. People who flit from one interest to another are much, much less likely to excel at any of them. School asks students to be good at a range of subjects, but life asks people to find one passion that they will follow forever.” 20 likes
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