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Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Review: The Social Animal by David Brooks

Posted by EPL patron and guest blogger, Irwin S.

James Michener and Arthur Haley produced some fascinating novels in which they inserted information about our world with stories about people and events (e.g. geology in Hawaii and archeology in The Source).  They made easier the process of learning about an erudite subject by combining it with compelling characters and interesting plots.  In The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, David Brooks has used a similar technique to help the reader understand the functions and operation of the brain.

Brooks' characters aren't as interesting and his plot lines scarcely qualify as such.  However, he takes on a challenging subject and does a remarkable job.  The reader will know more about herself and her associates and why they behave as they do after reading The Social Animal.

The author creates a comprehensible description and analysis of the conscious and subconscious, with emphasis on the latter which he convincingly argues is far more influential than the former.  He does so by tracing the lives of Harold, an intelligent but rather ordinary middle class person and Erica, a brilliant, assertive and aggressive person, raised by her oriental mother in a rough neighborhood. Harold may seem dull and Erica exciting, but each has a great deal to teach us about ourselves, especially about the manifestations of our subconscious.

Brooks provides many helpful and remarkable insights about the process and methods of thinking and functioning.  He explains and illustrates how decisions and events of our childhood profoundly affect our entire life.

The book contains copious endnotes.  They are a real treasure for anyone who wishes to engage in further study.  Some of the notes are traditional references to treatises and books, but many contain citations to websites, simplifying additional research.  The book is truly a product of the 21st century and a worthwhile read.

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