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The Road to Character


David Brooks (View Bio)
Hardcover: Random House, 2015.

The Road to Character

In his most eye-opening and deeply personal book yet, David Brooks—New York Times bestselling author of The Social Animal—tells the story of ten great lives that illustrate how character is developed, and how we can all strive to build rich inner lives, marked by humility and moral depth. In a society that emphasizes success and external achievement, The Road to Character is a book about inner worth.

The #1 New York Times Best Seller!
The #1 Amazon Best Seller

"A powerful, haunting book that works its way beneath your skin." — Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian

"With his new book, The Road to Character, David Brooks—New York Times columnist, PBS ‘NewsHour’ commentator and serial mensch—emerges as a countercultural leader. His goal is the recovery of ‘a vast moral vocabulary and set of moral tools, developed over centuries and handed down from generation to generation’ His method is to profile ‘heroes of renunciation’—a diverse group consisting of men and women, minorities and whites, gay people and straight, aristocratic and blue-collar, generally shaped by tragedy and driven to make unsparing demands on themselves…. Brooks’s selection of biographical examples is an exercise in cultural criticism. They are chosen to stand in contrast to currently ascendant forms of self-trust, self-love, self-expression, self-esteem and self-actualization…. The literary achievement of The Road to Character is inseparable from the virtues of its author. As the reader, you not only want to know about Frances Perkins or Saint Augustine. You also want to know what Brooks makes of Frances Perkins or Saint Augustine. 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. Across the pages, Brooks is a reliable guide and a pleasant companion. But this description plays down the radical, disruptive ambition of the book. The Road to Character can’t be reduced to cultural criticism, because the author doesn’t take our communal struggle to be primary…. He finds the greatest drama in our sacred journeys—the saving and losing of souls. This requires the moral vocabulary of a previous era. A consciousness of sin. A real determination to reach holiness. When said in public, terms such as 'sin' and 'holiness' have the power to shock, like the choicer curse words once did…. Brooks is an effective modern translator of these ideas because he is constitutionally incapable of finger-wagging. His is a call to a cheerful, tolerant, shared struggle with sin. Yet his description of spiritual maturity—of people who have found lives of self-mastery, graciousness, steadiness and a concentrated sense of purpose—will be read by most people as an indictment…. The book, fortunately, did not stop there. ‘We are all ultimately saved by grace,’ says Brooks, right there in thesis No. 10…. Brooks makes this point in a nonsectarian, even nonreligious, manner. He is always careful—always courteous enough—to leave people the space to find their way." — Michael Gerson, The Washington Post

"“In the introduction to his new book, The Road to Character, David Brooks breaks the columnist’s fourth wall with a startling confession: “I was born with a natural disposition towards shallowness.” Brooks, who established a reputation for sometimes glib but often insightful cultural commentary with Bobos in Paradise, his 2000 best-seller, has more recently specialized in applying the latest in brain science and social psychology to larger questions of morality on the Op-Ed pages of the Times. He continues, “I’m paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am, to appear smarter than I really am, to appear better and more authoritative than I really am. I have to work harder than most people to avoid a life of smug superficiality. The Road to Character is an account of Brooks’s effort to find his way out of shallow punditry—or, as he puts it, to “cultivate character.” … There is something affecting in the diligence with which Brooks seeks a cure for his self-diagnosed shallowness by plumbing the depths of others…. Brooks’s instinct that there is wisdom to be found in literature that cannot be found in the pages of the latest social science journals is well-advised, and the possibility that his book may bring the likes of Eliot or Samuel Johnson—another literary figure about whom he writes with engaging sympathy—to a wider readership is a heartening thought." — Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker  (Read the full 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 in The Road to Character." — William O'Sullivan, The Washingtonian

"This learned and engaging work brims with pleasures.... Brooks makes his case for character through the stories of people who seemed to have it, including public servants Frances Perkins and Gen. George Marshall and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph. These little biographies are enlightening, and they demonstrate that character comes in all kinds of people, in a variety of manifestations." — Daniel Akst, Newsday

"Brooks offers biographies of a cross section of individuals who struggled against their own weaknesses and limitations and developed strong moral fiber. . . . [He] offers a humility code that cautions against living only for happiness and that recognizes we are ultimately saved by grace." — Booklist

"The road to exceptional character may be unpaved and a bit rocky, yet it is still worth the struggle. This is the basic thesis of Brooks’s engrossing treatise on personal morality in today’s materialistic, proud world. . . . [His] poignant and at times quite humorous commentary on the importance of humility and virtue makes for a vital, uplifting read" — Publishers Weekly

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