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The Road to Character

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE ECONOMIST • “I wrote this book not sure I could follow the road to character, but I wanted at least to know what the road looks like and how other people have trodden it.”—David Brooks

With the wisdom, humor, curiosity, and sharp insights that have brought millions of readers to his New York Times column and his previous bestsellers, David Brooks has consistently illuminated our daily lives in surprising and original ways. In The Social Animal, he explored the neuroscience of human connection and how we can flourish together. Now, in The Road to Character, he focuses on the deeper values that should inform our lives. Responding to what he calls the culture of the Big Me, which emphasizes external success, Brooks challenges us, and himself, to rebalance the scales between our “résumé virtues”—achieving wealth, fame, and status—and our “eulogy virtues,” those that exist at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty, or faithfulness, focusing on what kind of relationships we have formed.

Looking to some of the world’s greatest thinkers and inspiring leaders, Brooks explores how, through internal struggle and a sense of their own limitations, they have built a strong inner character. Labor activist Frances Perkins understood the need to suppress parts of herself so that she could be an instrument in a larger cause. Dwight Eisenhower organized his life not around impulsive self-expression but considered self-restraint. Dorothy Day, a devout Catholic convert and champion of the poor, learned as a young woman the vocabulary of simplicity and surrender. Civil rights pioneers A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin learned reticence and the logic of self-discipline, the need to distrust oneself even while waging a noble crusade.

Blending psychology, politics, spirituality, and confessional, The Road to Character provides an opportunity for us to rethink our priorities, and strive to build rich inner lives marked by humility and moral depth.

“Joy,” David Brooks writes, “is a byproduct experienced by people who are aiming for something else. But it comes.”

Praise for The Road to Character

“A hyper-readable, lucid, often richly detailed human story.”The New York Times Book Review

“David Brooks—the New York Times columnist and PBS commentator whose measured calm gives punditry a good name—offers the building blocks of a meaningful life.”Washingtonian

“This profound and eloquent book is written with moral urgency and philosophical elegance.”—Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree and The Noonday Demon

“The voice of the book is calm, fair and humane. The highlight of the material is the quality of the author’s moral and spiritual judgments.”—The Washington Post

“A powerful, haunting book that works its way beneath your skin.”—The Guardian (U.K.)

“This learned and engaging book brims with pleasures.”Newsday

“Original and eye-opening . . . At his best, Brooks is a normative version of Malcolm Gladwell, culling from a wide array of scientists and thinkers to weave an idea bigger than the sum of its parts.”USA Today

“There is something affecting in the diligence with which Brooks seeks a cure for his self-diagnosed shallowness by plumbing the depths of others.”—Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker

  • Rank: #7082 in Books
  • Brand: Random House
  • Published on: 2015-04-14
  • Released on: 2015-04-14
  • Original language: English
  • Number of items: 1
  • Dimensions: 9.50" h x 1.10" w x 6.50" l, 1.25 pounds
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • 320 pages


  • Random House

370 of 404 people found the following review helpful.
Interesting but not compelling
By Freudian Slips
I have opted for a "3" rating, which may be a little harsh for this well-written book, but that's because I found myself vacillating between enjoying parts of this book while disliking others. The book opens well with an interesting comparison of resume virtues vs eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are the accomplishments and skills we put on our resumes; eulogy virtues are the characteristics that are at the core of your being. Brooks then describes this contrast as Adam I vs Adam II and goes on to cite various examples of how our society has been taken over by resume virtues and Adam I beliefs and actions. He compares a football player's over-enthusiastic response to a touchdown with the more humble reactions to the US victory in WWII.

I enjoyed this opening discussion as well as several of the examples of individuals who had found their "vocation" (rather than "career") often through a circumstance in their life which propelled them toward it. Many times, their calling found them. I liked the emphasis on humility and the importance of being a good person not just doing good deeds. I also enjoyed reading about the Triangle Factory Fire and other incidents which pointed certain individuals toward their ultimate destinies. I truly admire the values he promotes and was pleasantly reminded of my father's generation which lived many of those values through WWII and other historic events.

But as I continued to read the book, I started to get a sense of "back in the good old days" nostalgia that implies (or blatantly states) that somehow suffering is the key to nobility and a good person. Stories are told of individuals who survived deaths of close family or children, endured hazing or torture, and it all started to sound a little preachy, no matter how eloquently it was stated. I am not someone who holds much for the "good old days"-- they weren't so good for women, minorities, the poor, etc. And Brooks acknowledges that early on, but he seems to forget that, and after awhile I grew tired of reading the book. For every person who survives a hazing/torture event and thrives, there are others who are crushed and destroyed, and I'm not sure that's because they lack character. It's inspiring to read about those who triumph in dire circumstances, but I'm left with trying to figure out what that means-- should life be harder, the rules be harsher so we will have greater character? There's a tone of "life was harder then" and forged stronger people, and I'm not sure I agree.

Bottom line-- it's an interesting and well-written book and I truly recommend the first portion of it But after that, I felt like I had gotten the point. It just wasn't as compelling to read after the first few chapters.

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful.
Misleading Title
If you enjoy reading biographies or history, you will probably enjoy this book. It is generally well-researched and the some of the profiles appearing in chapters 2 through 9 are interesting. But the book does not present a "road to character" at all. In chapter 1 Brooks laments the character traits that he feels are valued today, and in subsequent chapters he presents examples of people that exhibit virtuous character traits. (As some other reviewers have said, by about chapter 7 the "back in the good ol' days things were better" feel gets tiresome). He doesn't make an effort to tie yesterday's "character" to today's character at all. Chapter 10, which is supposed to present his prescriptions, appears to have been hastily written and amounts to a checklist that says "try to be more like the people in chapters 2 through 9".

This was my first time reading Brooks so maybe fans of his will feel differently, but I was very disappointed.

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful.
The Road to Character - a Must Read
By Gerald S.
To be brief about this, The Road to Character should be required reading and, perhaps more importantly, discussion throughout the 50 States. He begins by asking the interesting question of whether the individual wants to be remembered as his/her "Resume" or "Eulogy". Do we lead our lives fueled by a desire to establish a resume of success or to be remembered by others in a eulogy. He presents this approach by referring to Adam 1 (Resume of significance) and Adam 2 (Eulogy of a life well spent). Mr. Brooks understands that we human beings are complicated animals and that we are all fallible and subject to the lesser instincts of life. But he also understands that we have the ability to understand ourselves - to look inward and recognize those weaknesses - to become part of a greater good than the self. He chooses as multiple topics of conversation, a number of significant individuals in our history and he analyzes how these very different people dealt with themselves. We all, everyone of us, need to understand that heroism comes in many forms and one need not be - cannot be - without flaw. The trick is to understand oneself and view our roles as parts of the jigsaw of life where we can all play a part. "Character" means knowing ourselves and remaining loyal to our nobler aspirations despite those flaws.

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