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The Committed Life

The Joy of Giving Yourself Away

David Brooks (View Bio)
Hardcover: Random House, 2019.

David Brooks examines four major commitments in life that fundamentally shape our identities: to a spouse and family, to a vocation, to a philosophy or faith, and to a community. Our personal fulfillment depends on how well we choose and execute these commitments. Joy comes when we fuse them into one coherent whole, with each of these commitments fortifying and strengthening the others. In The Committed Life, Brooks looks at people–from Dostoyevsky to Holocaust survivor Etty Hillesum to African educational entrepreneur Fred Swaniker–who have lived joyous, committed lives, and who have embraced the necessity of dependence. He gathers their wisdom on how to choose a partner, how to pick a vocation, how to live out a philosophy, and how we can begin to integrate our commitments into one overriding purpose.

This book is meant to help us all lead more meaningful lives, but it is also provocative social commentary. We live in a society, Brooks argues, that celebrates freedom and choice, that tells us to be true to ourselves, to march to the beat of our own drummer at the expense of surrendering to a cause, rooting ourselves in a neighborhood, and binding ourselves to others by social solidarity and love. We have taken individualism to the extreme degree–and, in the process, we have torn the social fabric in a thousand different ways. The path to repair is through making deeper commitments.

The Social Animal gave us a tale of human nature. The Road to Character traced the history of a great moral tradition–a riveting examination of morality in our time, and with The Committed Life, Brooks turns his mind to what happens when we put commitment-making at the center of life.