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The Social Animal

Cover of The Social Animal

The Social Animal

The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

With unequaled insight and brio, David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and bestselling author of Bobos in Paradise, has long explored and explained the way we live. Now, with the intellectual curiosity and emotional wisdom that make his columns among the most read in the nation, 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. It is told through the lives of one composite American couple, Harold and Erica--how they grow, push forward, are pulled back, fail, and succeed. Distilling a vast array of information into these two vividly realized characters, Brooks illustrates a fundamental new understanding of human nature. A scientific revolution has occurred--we have learned more about the human brain in the last thirty years than we had in the previous three thousand. The unconscious mind, it turns out, is most of the mind--not a dark, vestigial place but a creative and enchanted one, where most of the brain's work gets done. This is the realm of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, genetic predispositions, personality traits, and social norms: the realm where character is formed and where our most important life decisions are made. The natural habitat of The Social Animal.

Drawing on a wealth of current research from numerous disciplines, Brooks takes Harold and Erica from infancy to school; from the "odyssey years" that have come to define young adulthood to the high walls of poverty; from the nature of attachment, love, and commitment, to the nature of effective leadership. He reveals the deeply social aspect of our very minds and exposes the bias in modern culture that overemphasizes rationalism, individualism, and IQ. Along the way, he demolishes conventional definitions of success while looking toward a culture based on trust and humility.

The Social Animal is a moving and nuanced intellectual adventure, a story of achievement and a defense of progress. Impossible to put down, it is an essential book for our time, one that will have broad social impact and will change the way we see ourselves and the world.


From the Hardcover edition.

With unequaled insight and brio, David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and bestselling author of Bobos in Paradise, has long explored and explained the way we live. Now, with the intellectual curiosity and emotional wisdom that make his columns among the most read in the nation, 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. It is told through the lives of one composite American couple, Harold and Erica--how they grow, push forward, are pulled back, fail, and succeed. Distilling a vast array of information into these two vividly realized characters, Brooks illustrates a fundamental new understanding of human nature. A scientific revolution has occurred--we have learned more about the human brain in the last thirty years than we had in the previous three thousand. The unconscious mind, it turns out, is most of the mind--not a dark, vestigial place but a creative and enchanted one, where most of the brain's work gets done. This is the realm of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, genetic predispositions, personality traits, and social norms: the realm where character is formed and where our most important life decisions are made. The natural habitat of The Social Animal.

Drawing on a wealth of current research from numerous disciplines, Brooks takes Harold and Erica from infancy to school; from the "odyssey years" that have come to define young adulthood to the high walls of poverty; from the nature of attachment, love, and commitment, to the nature of effective leadership. He reveals the deeply social aspect of our very minds and exposes the bias in modern culture that overemphasizes rationalism, individualism, and IQ. Along the way, he demolishes conventional definitions of success while looking toward a culture based on trust and humility.

The Social Animal is a moving and nuanced intellectual adventure, a story of achievement and a defense of progress. Impossible to put down, it is an essential book for our time, one that will have broad social impact and will change the way we see ourselves and the world.


From the Hardcover edition.

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  • From the book

    chapter 1

    Decision Making

    After the boom and bust, after the go-go frenzy and the Wall Street meltdown, the Composure Class rose once again to the fore. The people in this group hadn't made their money through hedge-fund wizardry or by some big financial score. They'd earned it by climbing the meritocratic ladder of success. They'd made good grades in school, established solid social connections, joined quality companies, medical practices, and firms. Wealth had just settled down upon them gradually like a gentle snow.

    You'd see a paragon of the Composure Class lunching al fresco at some shaded bistro in Aspen or Jackson Hole. He's just back from China and stopping by for a corporate board meeting on his way to a five- hundred-mile bike-a-thon to support the fight against lactose intolerance. He is asexually handsome, with a little less body fat than Leonardo's David, and hair so lush and luxuriously wavy that, if you saw him in L.A., you'd ask, "Who's that handsome guy with George Clooney?" As he crosses his legs you observe that they are immeasurably long and slender. He doesn't really have thighs. Each leg is just one elegant calf on top of another.

    His voice is like someone walking in socks on a Persian carpet-so calm and composed, he makes Barack Obama sound like Lenny Bruce. He met his wife at the Clinton Global Initiative. They happened to be wearing the same Doctors Without Borders support bracelets and quickly discovered they had the same yoga instructor and their Fulbright Scholarships came only two years apart. They are a wonderfully matched pair, with the only real tension between them involving their workout routines. For some reason, today's high- prestige men do a lot of running and biking and only work on the muscles in the lower half of their bodies. High-status women, on the other hand, pay ferocious attention to their torsos, biceps, and forearms so they can wear sleeveless dresses all summer and crush rocks into pebbles with their bare hands.

    So Mr. Casual Elegance married Ms. Sculpted Beauty in a ceremony officiated by Bill and Melinda Gates, and they produced three wonderful children: Effortless Brilliance, Global Compassion, and Artistically Gifted. Like most upper- and upper-middle-class children, these kids are really good at obscure sports. Centuries ago, members of the educated class discovered that they could no longer compete in football, baseball, and basketball, so they stole lacrosse from the American Indians to give them something to dominate.

    The kids all excelled at homogenous and proudly progressive private high schools, carefully spending their summers interning at German science labs. Junior year, their parents sat them down and solemnly informed them that they were now old enough to start reading The Economist. They went off to selective colleges with good sports teams, like Duke and Stanford, and then they launched careers that would reflect well on their parents-for example by becoming chief economist at the World Bank after a satisfying few years with the Joffrey Ballet.

    Members of the Composure Class spend much of their adult lives going into rooms and making everybody else feel inferior. This effect is only magnified by the fact that they are sincere, modest, and nice. Nothing gives them greater pleasure than inviting you out to their weekend place. This involves meeting them Friday afternoon at some private airport. They arrive with their belongings in a tote bag because when you have your own plane you don't need luggage that actually closes.

    It's best to tuck away a few granola bars if you go on one of these jaunts because the sumptuary code of this new gentry means that...

About the Author-
  • David Brooks writes an op-ed column for The New York Times. Previously, he has been a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Atlantic Monthly, and an op-ed editor at The Wall Street Journal. He is currently a commentator on PBS NewsHour and contributes regularly to Meet the Press and NPR's All Things Considered. He is the author of Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There and On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense. His articles have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Forbes, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, Commentary, The Public Interest, and many other magazines. David Brooks lives in Maryland.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine We're not rational animals, or laboring animals--we're social animals. We emerge out of relationships and live to bond with each other and connect to larger ideas. Arthur Morey expertly delivers Brooks's complex blend of historical and scientific fact, opinion, and philosophy, which are imbedded in a fictional backdrop. Morey's pacing is impeccable as the narrative flows over greatly varying terrain--from the quotes of towering scientific thinkers to the interpersonal angst of a boy and girl falling in love. All of Brooks's wry wit is captured in Morey's clean narrative style. The listener can almost hear the familiar voice of the author, a frequent television pundit, in Morey's pitch-perfect delivery. Essential listening for those who seek to understand what makes us human. M.C. (c) AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine
  • Newsweek

    "Authoritative, impressively learned, and vast in scope."

  • The Wall Street Journal "As in [Bobos in Paradise] he shows genius in sketching archetypes and coining phrases. . . . In The Social Animal Mr. Brooks surveys a stunning amount of research and cleverly connects it to everyday experience."
  • The Economist "[A] fascinating study of the unconscious mind and its impact on our lives . . . Brooks has done well to draw such vivid attention to the wide implications of the accumulated research on the mind and the triggers of human behaviour."
  • Kirkus Reviews (starred revew) "An uncommonly brilliant blend of sociology, intellect and allegory."
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer "Provocative and fascinating . . . seeks to do nothing less than revolutionize our notions about how we function and conduct our lives."
  • San Francisco Chronicle

    "Multifaceted, compulsively readable . . . Brooks's considerable achievement comes in his ability to elevate the unseen aspects of private experience into a vigorous and challenging conversation about what we all share."
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The Social Animal
The Social Animal
The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement
David Brooks
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