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“The Social Animal”  by David Brooks

by Neil Rollings (Book Reviewer), December 2020

In this illuminating and compelling book, David Brooks weaves a vast array of new research into the lives of two fictional characters, Harold and Erica, following them from infancy to old age. In doing so, he reveals a fundamental new understanding of human nature. Most success stories are explained at the surface level of life. They describe academic ability, hard work and learning the right techniques to get ahead. The story of Harold and Erica is told one level deeper. It is about emotions, intuitions, genetic predispositions and deep inner longings. The result is a new definition of success, highlighting what economists call non cognitive skills. These are hidden qualities that can't be easily counted or measured but which in real life lead to happiness and fulfilment.

This book will be of interest to educators for the colossal quantity of research that is introduced, explained and applied.  The fictional characters provide a landscape for illustrating the impact of unconscious thought and impulses in shaping behaviour and life outcomes.  Its impact is summarised in its sub-title: “The Story of how Success Happens”