Tuesday, April 03, 2012
Author: David Brooks
Genre: Nonfiction, sociology
Publisher: Random House, 2011
Read for: Indie Lit Awards
In The Social Animal, David Brooks creates two unique characters that navigate the waters of life successfully. Applying real studies to his fictional characters, Brooks explores the reasons for success, love, and sociality humans.
Guys, this was my favorite of the five nonfiction books that I read for the Indie Lit Awards. When explaining it to a friend, she said, "So basically it is a nonfiction book that is actually fictional?" Okay, yes, it sounds that way. But it has been done before. Jean-Jacques Rousseau created a similar situation with his treatise on education, Emile, creating a character with experiences that showed the application of his theories.
And it definitely works for Brooks in The Social Animal. We are introduced to our two central characters, Harold and Erica, following them through their early lives -- a life of privilege and attention for Harold, a life of struggle, racial tension and poverty for Erica -- through to their relationship and careers and leaving them at the end of their lives. The story is absolutely peppered with little tidbits and factoids exposing interesting details about different studies. Some of these studies are well known, such as the ubiquitous marshmallow study, in which children that are able to wait fifteen minutes to eat a marshmallow in order to receive a second are more successful in life than those who eat their marshmallow immediately. Others are more incidental, such as when Erica meets Harold and evaluates him based on his height, because tall individuals generally make more money than their shorter colleagues.
While all this information could have been clogging and oppressive, Brooks' style is such that it comes off as informative and entertaining. He employs dry humor constantly, and invents personal details from Harold and Erica's life that makes them likable and personable instead of dry research subjects. I particularly loved when Harold became enthralled with the ancient Greeks and the moments of inspiration when he worked on his project on these heroes. I was thoroughly invested, and kept coming across fascinating little "Did you know" moments that I wish I could have stored better in my brain.
My one complaint with the book is that for all intents and purposes, Harold and Erica existed in 2011 throughout their entire lifespans. When they were born, their parents were described as living a lifestyle that is current with this time period, complete with Facebook. From what I read, the time period never ended, but if we are being realistic, drastic changes are occurring at least every five years in technology and life in general. I know that Brooks couldn't possibly forecast the future (and anyway, it drove me crazy in Physics of the Future) but it would have made more sense to me logically to start Harold and Erica in the 50's or whenever they would have been born. Then again, it was a literary device and didn't have to follow normal rules of chronology, and I can see why the story would possibly not have worked as well. It just irked me slightly.
However, all in all I found this book entertaining and informative. The Social Animal is one of the most unique and interesting nonfiction books that I have ever read.
Warnings: Language, including F bombs, and clinical descriptions of sex