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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 August 2012
This is a book that looks that the sciences that concern the human mind and behaviours.

But it is written looking at a couple of fictional characters called Harold and Erica, and pauses at points in their lives to consider the sciences behind the assumptions.

The science parts are therefore very good, written with clarity at the current best understanding of the way the brain works and the way society and people function. I did find the fictional account of the couple a little bit twee, and was not always relevant.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Firstly, for those who hope they are buying a novel, let it be quite clear that David Brooks only adopted this approach so that he could the better hang the flesh of such knowledge he has acquired about the nature of man on a familiar skeleton ! For all intents and purposes this is non-fiction.

It is not the worse for using such a subterfuge. However, I expect great things when I read a publisher's blurb that "this book will have a broad social impact and change the way we see ourselves and the world." Frankly I do not believe this work lives up to such promise !

I do not agree with people who have suggested it is badly written or poorly edited. I imagine nevertheless that English readers (and I am writing on Amazon.co.uk) will find American spelling and American politics and sport a little too intrusive. Also there are American expressions like "policy wonk" that might or might not one day become as familiar to us as a "silver bullet", but are not so yet !

The book is about social life, culture and psychology; about people's IQ and their socio-economic status. It is also about how to lead a happy and successful existence. Some of the detail is fascinating, some is predictable to the point of being boring. While David Brook's modesty is commendable there is also too much boring attribution to people like "the great business sage Peter Drucker" or "the great anthropologist Clifford Geertz". It goes on ad infinitum : "the marriage expert John Gottman", the neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni, the Austrian physician René Spitz, and believe me, I am omitting some of the best !

When you have read this book you will be able to distinguish between natural and behavioural sciences; level 1 and level 2 cognition; your head will be buzzing with words like 'underdebate' and 'protoconversation'; you will know about paradigm shifts and mental feedback loops, but I doubt whether your life will be changed.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Mostly drivel, with a (very) few nuggets of real interest. Starts off well enough, backed up by recent social-psychological research, but soon descends into a twee fairytale, which serves as little but a vehicle for the author's rightist standpoints. After racing through the first couple of chapters and thinking 'this isn't bad at all', I really struggled to stomach the rest of the book (though battle on I did!). What a shame he couldn't carry on as he started!
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on 11 August 2013
As with other reviewers, I found this to be one of the best books I've read on such matters/of similar "genre". However, the book does become somewhat of a chore to read in the final 1/3rd as the developments become a political rant over how the USA operates in terms of electoral campaigns, but doesn't have as much background as the rest of the book does. The back cover states "This is the happiest story you will ever read", however I disagree as **SPOILER ALERT** Harold and Erica do not have children, and the book concludes with Harold's death. Not much was given to the reason for them rekindling their love after their marriage was on the brink of divorce either, so I felt that could have had a little more explanation.

All in all though, a fascinating read, one of the best yet. I would thoroughly recommend it, even for the pertinent observations Brooks so eloquently conveys masterfully through the style of a biographic novel.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2012
David Brooks is a regular columnist for the New York Times who takes a conservative slant. As such, I have grown to dislike him and disrespect his apologetic point of view for loopy right wing views. But the Social Animal starts off brilliantly, bringing Brooks my respect, but ends up downright loopy.

Brooks uses fictional people's lives to illustrate what we know about the unconscious mind. To begin with, this is very well done - he uses a lot of Daniel Kahneman's ideas (see Thinking Fast and Slow)and other respected source material to tell the stroy. His fictional couple - Harold and Erica - start off interesting - and develop into conservative archetypes so untypical of anyone on the Planet Earth that Brooks shoots himself in the foot and out the other side. Think I'm kidding?

Erica is a Chinese-Mexican woman (so many of them around, right?) who leaves the ghetto to become an ace student, senior management consultant entrepreneur, corporate CEO and eventually Presidential Chief of Staff. Typical, right? She has no children and never has had any. Her WASP husband is very upper middle class, works with the consultant Erica, falls in love with her, becomes a Historical Society curator, then turns to writing History books.

These two become pawns for Brook's social point of view - that being an up the bootstraps pulling, self made minority is deeply wonderful, once Erica realises that culture gives you more advantages than money. Women should be encouraged to achieve anything in the workplace, but home will be abandoned, as will your poor husband. Harold is a Brooks surrogate, and he sounds like such a wanker, you'd like to punch him for being a weak schmuck.

So a pretty good premise is soured by the author's real, conservative agenda and narrow world view. And the critics raved!
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on 28 May 2014
This is a brilliant book for those interested in understanding how humans become who they are and how we can be happier and more successful. It is research based and is full of references to the researchers and their publications. I can't easily put it down ! There is a story linking the information , which carries you through effectively.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 30 January 2012
I have long been interested in why we humans do what we do. I was given a book token for my birthday this month and found this book by chance in Waterstones. It was fascinating and held me enthralled. So interested was I that I also bought the digital version because I've already promised the paperback to someone else.

This book shows just how 'unconscious' we all are about what exactly motivates us to make the decisions we do. It's not a book on decision making but a book on what it means to be human and why we're all so different. This book could change your life, if that is you read it and begin to 'wake up' to the vast underground lake of your own sub-conscious and its effects on your everyday life.

It's not a book that allows you to place blame on your parents or culture because it explains how they affect you and in the end shows you how to recognise when those biases and pre-conceptions can trip you up.

Anyone working with people would do well to read this as it's the best book I've come across for explaining why you can't please all the people all the time, or sometime some of the people at any time.

Dealing with teenagers, children, other cultures (and you'd be shocked by what a culture may actually be and how you can belong to more than one at the same time).

In fact if you have any contact at all with anyone, reading this book will expand your vision of what it means to be human.
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on 29 May 2013
David Brooks takes some complex concepts and simplifies them without lessening the significance of the theory behind them. I enjoyed the style of the book; sociology, psychology, neuroscience and behaviour told in the format of a story about two people's lives. Highly recommended, no matter what your field of interest.
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on 30 January 2014
I enjoyed this book like a very good movie. Well written, some funny facts, some sad. Background story is as much interesting as authors interpretation. After reading this one, I got "The righteous mind", same subject, but more theoretical.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 17 April 2012
I think the main points of this book could have been reached with much less background story. It get's a bit tiresome to read after a while, even though it is quite easy to digest.
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