The Social Animal: A Story of Love, Character, and Achievement

David Brooks, Random, $27 (448p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6760-2
New York Times columnist Brooks (Bobos in Paradise) raids Malcolm Gladwell's pop psychology turf in a wobbly treatise on brain science, human nature, and public policy. Essentially a satirical novel interleaved with disquisitions on mirror neurons and behavioral economics, the narrative chronicles the life cycle of a fictional couple—Harold, a historian working at a think tank, and Erica, a Chinese-Chicana cable-TV executive—as a case study of the nonrational roots of social behaviors, from mating and shopping to voting. Their story lets Brooks mock the affluent and trendy while advancing soft neoconservative themes: that genetically ingrained emotions and biases trump reason; that social problems require cultural remedies (charter schools, not welfare payments); that the class divide is about intelligence, deportment, and taste, not money or power. Brooks is an engaging guide to the "cognitive revolution" in psychology, but what he shows us amounts mainly to restating platitudes. (Women like men with money, we learn, while men like women with breasts.) His attempt to inflate recent research on neural mechanisms into a grand worldview yields little except buzz concepts—"society is a layering of networks"—no more persuasive than the rationalist dogmas he derides. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/31/2011
Release date: 03/01/2011
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