The popular New York Times columnist propels himself through another heartfelt, earnest pilgrimage toward self-awakening and commitment.
Deeply concerned about the breakdown in civil discourse and the terrible compromises that successful people—especially politicians—make in their careers, Brooks (The Road to Character, 2015, etc.) elucidates another way to live, what he calls the Second Mountain. The first mountain is what people of his well-educated, affluent milieu climb to gain good jobs, recognition, money, and success—doing what our society expects us to do. While some people reach the top, they might find it “unsatisfying.” Others fall away and fail, for whatever reason, and spend time suffering in the valley, which is where Brooks finds the truly interesting stories. “The people who have been made larger by suffering are brave enough to let parts of their old self die,” he writes. “Down in the valley, their motivations changed. They’ve gone from self-centered to other-centered.” Brooks uses innumerable examples of people who have suffered in this profoundly disappointing wilderness and been made stronger in their sense of purpose. These include historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Leo Tolstoy as well as the author’s friends and acquaintances. Indeed, Brooks uses his own experience of being broken by the dissolution of his marriage of 27 years and his embrace of Christianity (he was raised in a Jewish household) and eventual remarriage to a younger woman who acted as his research assistant and spiritual guide. Essentially, he sets out to create a blueprint for moral transformation by eschewing the hyperindividualism we are taught to champion as children and which, he concludes via social data, leads only to loneliness, distrust of institutions, loss of purpose, and tribalism. Instead, we must open ourselves to family, community, and religious commitments. Brooks is a heart-on-his-sleeve writer, and his language is not terribly profound, but his message is accessible and inclusive.
A thoughtful work that offers an uplifting message to those struggling in the wilderness of career and existential challenge.