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THE SOCIAL ANIMAL by David Brooks Kirkus Star


A Story of Love, Character, and Achievement

by David Brooks

Pub Date: March 8th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6760-2
Publisher: Random House

Through the lens of a hypothetical couple and their offspring, New York Times columnist Brooks (On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (and Always Have) In the Future Tense, 2005, etc.) cleverly explores the realms of the psyche and the unconscious mind.

Though culture and politics comprise the bulk of the author’s journalistic expertise, the social behavior of humans has always fascinated him. Taking cues from Rousseau, whose controversial treatise Emile charted human educational development through imagined characters, Brooks employs a similar novelistic narrative device in his intricate analysis of two upwardly mobile, likeminded individuals. The fictional couple’s initial meeting spurs the author to personify the dynamics of attraction via their gender-specific “primitive passions” (“Rob was looking at cleavage, Julia was looking for signs of trustworthiness”), primal scents and cues that would anticipate a lifelong romance. “Aided by chemistry and carried along by feeling,” Rob and Julia troubleshoot cohabitation blunders, carnal urges and the birth of son Harold, who, together with his wife-to-be Erica (introduced chapters later), ultimately becomes the focus of the author’s behavioral paradigm. Harold’s mental development proceeds from kindergarten to high school via cliques, phases and a taboo student-teacher crush. The author expands his group with Erica, an ambitious, ethnically diverse girl raised in a poor public housing project. She excels at a challenging educational platform in her youth and achieves success as a business consultant by cultivating ideas and having Harold develop them for real-world application. Their evolution as husband and wife and consummate professionals is not, however, without a fair share of stumbles. If a bit bloated, the narrative is compelling as Brooks effectively interweaves history, science, statistics and instinctual behavioral patterns into a fictional treatment that reiterates his belief in “the way unconscious affections and aversions shape daily life.”

An uncommonly brilliant blend of sociology, intellect and allegory.