In the last five years David Brooks has been on a journey. The dissolution of his first marriage, the decline of neo-conservatism in Republican circles and his own involvement in sponsoring people involved in community and personal restoration has led him to revise his view of the world.
Brooks now sees the struggle for personal advancement—for more money, status and power—as merely a lesser mountain for people to climb. The pursuit of happiness, the American dream...these individualistic strivings have been too emphasized in the contemporary West. There is a second mountain that touches the deeper aspects of our humanity. One climbs it by self-sacrifice and commitment to spouse and community. Above all, one realizes that true joy in life comes from believing and serving something greater than yourself.
Brooks further believes this journey has importance for all of America. It is the baby-boomers hyper-focus on individual achievement that is at the root of our current political malaise. Only by a societal return to an other-centered life can we overcome our tribalism and divisions.
If this journey sounds rather familiar it is because it is the same voyage many people have made throughout history. Thus, Brooks spends most of the book focused on the biographies and thoughts of great men and women with similar experiences. His own personal journey is fittingly secondary.
But this is where the book has a fundamental weakness. While Brooks and those he cites can provide vivid testimonials of their experience there is no effort to ground any of this in a scientific account of human nature, a history of the world or our particular species, etc.
After reading the book one might be left with the impression one has when someone describes how they found God and how that pulled them out of depression, anxiety, lethargy or some other predicament. No one would want to tell somebody to abandon a belief that had such beneficial effects, but a personal experience is just that—personal. Whether it translates from one person to another is highly doubtful.
So while I admire Brooks’ bravery in writing such a counter-cultural work, I have to conclude that the book’s overall argument relies on nothing but testimonials. For someone who gives annual awards to social scientists this seems like a great lacunae. Why should I trust these testimonials if my experience of the world is very different?
In short, if people read this book and become convinced to be other-centered and discover great joy in their life, I would be the last person to dissuade them. But from David Brooks I wanted more. I wanted some account of human nature that would ground this other-directedness in something rational. A powerful testimonial but, in the end, only a testimonial. In my opinion, that makes The Second Mountain an enjoyable but not an essential book.
- Audio CD
- Publisher: AUDIO RH USA - MASS MARKET; Unabridged edition (23 April 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1984840762
- ISBN-13: 978-1984840769
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.7 x 15.2 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 272 g
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