I reviewed David Brooks’ newest book The Social Animal for the Christian Science Monitor this week. It’s a fun read and serves as an easy introduction to a lot of fascinating research that has taken place in the behavioral sciences over the last decade. But all told, this book has Brooks out of his depth: His retelling of the science is breezy and riddled with inaccuracies, and while he aspires to serious moral and political arguments he doesn’t commit the requisite intellectual energy to do so:
Brooks tells his readers that an awareness of “how much our own desire for power and to do good blinds us to our limitations” has tempered his impulse toward social engineering. Reading “The Social Animal,” however, I took this as a caveat more of the mind than of the heart. His reliance on brain science suggests a wide-eyed acceptance about its potential to help us live better lives and build a better society. It remains to be seen whether the cognitive revolution will live up to its billing. My rational mind – the very part of me that Brooks says I should be wary of – is enthralled with the possibility. My heart tells me we’ve been here before.
Also recommended: Thomas Nagel’s take down in The Times.