BOOK REVIEW: The Social Animal by David Brooks, The Hidden Sources of Love, Character & Achievement

This is a uniquely written book in that it speaks densely about psychological phenomenon in a fictional/narrative format. Brooks covers our unconscious mind and describes with great clarity the meaning behind all the little behaviors that add up to become our everyday functioning. This keeps it from going very deeply into any one topic but if you are interested in the behavioral sciences this is a fun book to read.

Brooks starts with the meeting of two couples, their relationship and then the children they have. These two children subsequently meet and Brooks takes them through all of their struggles as a couple, right up to their elderly years. During this journey he reflects on their behaviors but also the behaviors of their extended families, coworkers and scores of others they interact with along the way.

From Publishers Weekly

New York Times columnist Brooks (Bobos in Paradise) raids Malcolm Gladwell’s pop psychology turf in a wobbly treatise on brain science, human nature, and public policy. Essentially a satirical novel interleaved with disquisitions on mirror neurons and behavioral economics, the narrative chronicles the life cycle of a fictional couple—Harold, a historian working at a think tank, and Erica, a Chinese-Chicana cable-TV executive—as a case study of the nonrational roots of social behaviors, from mating and shopping to voting. Their story lets Brooks mock the affluent and trendy while advancing soft neoconservative themes: that genetically ingrained emotions and biases trump reason; that social problems require cultural remedies (charter schools, not welfare payments); that the class divide is about intelligence, deportment, and taste, not money or power. Brooks is an engaging guide to the “cognitive revolution” in psychology, but what he shows us amounts mainly to restating platitudes. (Women like men with money, we learn, while men like women with breasts.) His attempt to inflate recent research on neural mechanisms into a grand worldview yields little except buzz concepts—”society is a layering of networks”—no more persuasive than the rationalist dogmas he derides. (Mar.)

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