Book: The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement

China is awash with photocopied books. Check out any university and you'll be hard-pressed to find one student with an original book.

The happiest story you’ve ever read.
The closest you’ll get to a book about YOU.

423 pages, ★★★★★

The Social Animal is about as close to fiction as I ever get: a life-like story of two fictitious (but very ordinary) people. This book follows the lives of Harold and Erica through the proposed “six stages of life”, the most interesting of which being my stage: “odyssey”.

“Odyssey” is defined as the “ten years of wandering that follow adolescence but preclude a settled adulthood”. It’s a modern phenomenon that arises both from globalisation, and from lack of pressure in Western societies to settle down early. Twenty-somethings spend up to ten years travelling and trying on new personalities (like new clothes); and The Social Animal explains why we do this.

David Brooks makes dozens of references to research mentioned in MIT’s excellent Introductory Psychology lecture series (available for free on iTunes U). He also makes many reassuring references to studies outlined in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

The most comforting aspect of this book is that the author knows the characters better than they know themselves. David Brooks explains all the characters’ feelings, actions and reasoning before they act. He cites psychology, neuroscience and behavioural economics.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in science who has an aversion to reading fiction for fear of “not learning anything”. We learn about ourselves by reading fiction. I now aspire to having read enough literature that I, too, could understand myself on a similar level to this book. ★★★★★

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