Monday, December 16, 2013

What: David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement (New York: Random House, 2011)

Why:  An insightful tour through the modern human psyche.

From time to time, I’ve been known to circle back to certain authors whose work I find especially interesting or thought-provoking. Malcolm Gladwell, whose writings I’ve reviewed herehere and here, is certainly on the list, as is—despite my own decidedly middle-of-the-road political leanings—George Will, whose observations regarding our national sport overshadow his more doctrinaire works, at least in my humble opinion.

And then there’s David Brooks, a guy who has been labeled “the liberals’ favorite conservative.” I’m not sure why this should be true, except that some of the things he thinks and writes about touch on basic questions regarding the human condition, and not just on the free market or who should be the next Republican nominee for this or that office.  

In an earlier book review, I described how Brooks took on the job of producing a profile of a meritocratic class with which all of us are familiar, in many cases quite intimately. In The Social Animal, Brooks takes on the question of what makes people tick. An alternative subtitle to this book might have been “David Brooks Explains Life.”

Explain it he does, tapping into the newest biological, psychological and sociological studies. The bottom line? “The central evolutionary truth,” according to Brooks, “is that the unconscious matters most.” What goes on beneath the level of conscious thought has a staggeringly important impact on how we live our lives. Just one example: “People are instinctively drawn to the familiar,” which explains why people named Denise or Dennis are disproportionately likely to be dentists, just as you might be drawn to a legal career if you’re named Lawrence or Laurie (or Lori). “These are some of the most important choices in people’s lives,” says Brooks, “and they are influenced, if only a bit, by the sound of the name they happen to be given at birth and the attraction to the familiar.”

Anyone know an entrepreneur named Andre(w), or maybe Buck or Max?  Maybe even someone who has two “money” names like "Cash and Penny"?  Maybe it isn’t just a coincidence…. 

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