Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Social Animal -- David Brooks ---------- 3 Stars

Some books I read I can't even remember how they got on my list or why I ended up deciding to read them.  The Social Animal by David Brooks belongs in that category.   I think I have had this on my list for a couple years now and I finally got to it recently.  I have a feeling the blog I am about to write is going to mimic this book; not bad, but not too good either.

David Brooks is a pretty great columnist for the NY Times who does mostly political stuff...I enjoy him and he is smart.  The book's main premise, as you may guess from the title on the right, is that the real reason people are happy is not from material wealth or intelligence but rather a variety of social abilities that mostly have to do with your character and how you relate to others. 

The good -- the book is nicely written and starts out very strongly.  After an interesting introduction, I was excited to read about the ways in which a person's social skills and things things that are not considered part of 'intellect' really equate to happiness and true success.  Following, the ideas of multiple intelligences and other ways of determine true 'ability', this book focuses on similar ideas.  So, it's a pretty cool premise and some of the studies and statistics that Brooks offers are fascinating.

The bad -- its sort of a long read and it gets progressively less interesting as it continues.  As the story does not really build upon itself, you don't really appreciate it as you continue to read.  It also has some parts where he over writes and continues on for far too long with his point or his viewpoint.

The good and bad -- all of the points he is trying to make in it and items he is trying to make you understand, he does through the telling of a fictional story of two characters.   While I appreciated part of the stories and could get into them for periods of a time, in the end, it just seemed kind of hokey as each characters story would introduce his idea, then he would abandon the fictional story so he could explain his point, then he would get back again.  It was a bit odd. In some cases you could appreciate the tale about the person that sets up his argument while in others it seems forced.

Overall, its a pretty good book.  I would just recommend only reading the first half or 3/4ths as he really makes his major points early on and just (poorly) continues to try to add on or enhance those points as the story continues.  I really do believe that the premise of the book is important and needs to be better understood by people but the way he does it makes it a bit challenging. 


  1. The premise seems fairly self-evident, but I assume he has experimental evidence of some sort. What sort methodology does the book use when elaborating on the actual arguments? And, since it turns out this is actually pretty problematic, what is its definition of happiness, and how is it quantified?

  2. Great questions. Definitely worth reading to find out!