top of page


The Social Animal by David Brooks

If you or someone you have known is a human being or has used a human being brain to live on planet earth, you may be interested in the book I'm currently reading. If you are curious about how the unconscious decides much more of our lives than we may recognize, you may be interested in this book. If you are wondering how in the world people are still debating where they stand in this election, this book might shed a light on the brains in question. Written by op-ed New York Times contributor David Brooks, The Social Animal presents the information of thousands of social and psychological studies as a specific narrative about two imaginary characters (Harold and Erica), using them to teach us all a lot more about ourselves and each other.

In the first chapter of the book, we follow along on a first date between a man and a woman, Rob and Julia. It is a successful date that eventually leads to the birth of the main male character, Harold. Rather than follow the surface level conversation, we get a bird's eye, behind the scenes, physiological and psychological commentary about how it's is going down. We learn that Rob (read: all human males descended from Pleistocene ancestors) is mostly attracted to human females through visual data. Men, historically and pre-historically, are looking for someone who will successfully carry a baby around for them. Unfortunately for them, human females do not show outward physical signs of ovulation, so from primitive times, human males have become acute at seeking tips or signals of a woman's fertility. Wonder why Playboy sells better than Playgirl? It's not because women aren't thinking about sex. It's just different. Women are faced with the harder-to-discern task of finding a responsible, loyal mate. This isn't just emotional dependence; this mate has to stick around through pregnancy and for a minimum of six months after the baby is born or for the duration of when La Mama would not be able to independently gather enough food for her and a baby to make it through. She is looking for longevity more than love at first sight. (Which, let's admit, is pretty easy to agree with if we think about women and men in broad strokes.)

In this and every chapter that follows, Brooks weaves this type of fascinating data into the details. It so often feels like he is describing something that I just saw in my own life. "This story correlates to Our Story," I think over and over. These topics are ones we have all experienced, just by being alive, interested people: falling in love, parenting/babies, the education system and learning strategies, work, working for others and for yourself, politics, marriage. It's all in there, revealing the story of you to yourself, indelibly, predictably, beautifully.

I'll end with a paragraph from the political chapter I just finished, which sounds all too familiar in this three-weeks-to-election time of life:

"Most voters held centrist views and were moderate in disposition. But political values are not expressed in the abstract. They are expressed in the context of a campaign, and the campaign structures how political views get expressed.

The campaign was structured to take a moderate nation and to make it polarized. The parties were organized into teams. The pundits were organized into teams. There were two giant idea spaces, a Democratic idea space and a Republican idea space. The contest was over what mental model would get to dominate the country for the next four years. It was and either/or decision, and voters who didn't share either of the dominant idea spaces simply had to hold their nose and choose. The campaign itself took a moderate nation and turned it into a bitterly divided one."


bottom of page