The Social Animal – or why we can’t play like a six year old anymore?

Look for this in my Books Read section as well although I thought this book deserved a bit more of posting.

Title: The Social Animal, by David Brooks

A Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 4

My thoughts:  This book touches on my interest of the self-reinforcing roles of biological evolution versus social structures and how the two reinforce each other.  Brooks accomplishes this through a fable of two individuals (Harold and Erica) who come from different worlds (within the American context).  He proceeds to discuss all aspects of life including such things as why we marry (and should we), how we become happy (or not) the role of the rationale and unconscious mind.

A couple of great examples of how this fable story telling works includes the relationship of the newly arrived Harold and his mother and then the role of play and imagination in the development of children.   To the first, some great quotes:

“Harold spent his nine months in the womb, growing and developing, and then one fine day, he was born.  This wasn’t a particularly important event as far as his cognitive development was concerned, though he had a much better view.”

“Though he still had no awareness of himself as a separate person, little Harold had a repertoire of skills to get Julia (his mother) to fall in love with him.”

“Julia’s old personality battled back.  You have to give her credit for that.  She didn’t just surrender to this new creature without a struggle.  … One night, about seven months into Harold’s life, Julia was in the chair with Harold at her breast…. if you could have read Julia’s mind at that moment, here’s what you would have found her saying: ‘F*ck!, F*ck!, F*ck!, Help me! … At this moment – tired, oppressed, violated – she hated the little bastard.  He’d entered her mind with tricks of sweet seduction, and once inside, he’d stomped over everything with the infant equivalent of jack boots. … He was half Cupid, half storm trooper.  The greedy *sshole wanted everything.”

About six years later, Harold’s father, Rob, tried to insert himself into a room full of boys as they were playing a fireman’s game:

“He (Rob) got the urge to join in (with the boys).  He sat down with the boys, grabbed some figures, and joined Harold’s team.  This was a big mistake.  It was roughly equivalent of a normal human being grabbing a basketball and inviting himself to play a pickup game with the Los Angeles Lakers.  Over the course of his adult life, Rob had trained his mind to excel at … ‘paradimgatic thinking.’  This mode of thought is structured by logic and analysis.  … But the game Harold and his buddies were playing relied on … ‘narrative mode.’ … As their stories grew and evolved, it became clear what made sense and what didn’t make sense within the line of the story.  … Rob was like a warthog in a frolic of gazelles.  Their imagination danced while his plodded.  They saw good and evil while he saw plastic and metal.  After five minutes, their emotional intensity produced a dull ache in the back of his head.  He was exhausted trying to keep up.”

A well recommended read to all who are interested in how the heck you got here, human/social interactions and generally a darn good story about two people (Harold and Erica) who you will end up rooting for.  Generally I give away books after a read but this Brooks’ book will be a keeper.


From Chapters:  With unequaled insight and brio, New York Times columnist David Brooks has long explored and explained the way we live. Now Brooks turns to the building blocks of human flourishing in a multilayered, profoundly illuminating work grounded in everyday life. This is the story of how success happens, told through the lives of one composite American couple, Harold and Erica. Drawing on a wealth of current research from numerous disciplines, Brooks takes Harold and Erica from infancy to old age, illustrating a fundamental new understanding of human nature along the way: The unconscious mind, it turns out, is not a dark, vestigial place, but a creative one, where most of the brain’s work gets done. This is the realm where character is formed and where our most important life decisions are made-the natural habitat of The Social Animal. Brooks reveals the deeply social aspect of our minds and exposes the bias in modern culture that overemphasizes rationalism, individualism, and IQ. He demolishes conventional definitions of success and looks toward a culture based on trust and humility. The Social Animal is a moving intellectual adventure, a story of achievement and a defense of progress. It is an essential book for our time-one that will have broad social impact and will change the way we see ourselves and the world.

Chapters Link