Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Road to Character - David Brooks ------------------- 1.5 Stars

I'm not sure I have been as disappointed by a book as David Brooks' The Road to Character.  It was on my list to read for a long time, and I really enjoy Brooks' NYT articles and other writings. I was so excited to read a book focused on the topic of character; unfortunately, it wasn't close to meeting any of my expectations.

So, why so bad? Well, I judge based on entertainment value of books and how much I look forward to reading the book. In this case, I couldn't stand reading this book. In fact, and I never do this, I actually skipped pages or large parts of full chapters. Really, it was the only way I felt I could get through it.

This book should have been really good. Great author, who is one of my absolute favorite columnists to read. Great subject, trying to understand character, especially in today's modern world, is a great goal. Even the set up of the book should have worked - Brooks shared a bit about the understanding of what character has meant/does mean. Then, he told about a dozen stories about famous individuals in history that showed character. And this is where the book fell apart to me. These biographical chapters were rough! While some of the people studied were both new and old to me (Dorothy Day, Eisenhower, George Eliot) the detail and lack of connection to the theme of the book really made engagement difficult. His chapters were overly specific about each individual and really didn't keep the reader interested in each person's story.

As much as the book annoyed me, it did have some redeeming qualities. I found the start and ending interesting. Here he took a more nuanced view about character, what it means, how you can develop in modern world, etc. However, the middle 90% of the book had a lot to be desired. Slow, tedious, uneventful biographies about people who lived decades or centuries ago  fill most of the pages. I am sure, for many readers, these were exciting pieces and great stories about those with tremendous character. For me, they were just filler that were painful to get to and skipped on occasion. Read with caution!

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