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Since The Keynes Centre at UCC announced its forthcoming Book Club for the Autumn 2015 Season, we’ve had requests for suggestions about worthwhile readings over the Summer.
Our first recommendation is David Brooks, The Road to Character, 2015. Published a few weeks ago, this book has already generated a buzz in the reading world in the U.S. and is a good summer read.
David Brooks is the renowned Op-Ed Columnist for The New York Times. Unlike many Opinion writers, Brooks’s columns often draw on his reading repertoire, which is wide, deep and reflective, rather than just responding immediately to current events. This makes him good company for a Summer read.
Opinion columnists generally don’t admit to what Brooks does: “I’m paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am, to appear smarter that I really am, to appear better and more authoritative than I really am.” Then he had an epiphany as he realised that he had spent too much time cultivating what he calls “the résumé virtues” – the skills you list on your résumé – rather than “the eulogy virtues” – the Character-istics that are talked about at your funeral.
Brooks sets himself the goal of recovering the “vast moral vocabulary and set of moral tools developed over centuries and handed down over generation to generation.” As he said “I wrote, to be honest, to save my own soul”. His method is to use the contrast between ‘résumé virtues’ and ‘eulogy virtues’ with biographical sketches to explore how people overcame the powerful pull of the résumé to achieve “selflessness, generosity and self-sacrifice”.
He wants us to shift from what Economics calls ‘positional goods’ (only ‘good’ because no one else has them, like exclusive clubs and events), i.e. the ephemeral status, trophies and toys which maybe pursued ‘thoughtlessly, in the sense of Arendt, to cultivating values and meanings, i.e. who we are and our relationships with others and our world, which constitute the substantive in human affairs and living. This is a transformation from the ‘outside’ to the ‘inside’ of ourselves, from what we think we have to what we actually are.
Although he does not say so directly, Brooks would like us to remember that happiness is not a lasting condition and to regard the résumé virtues as the source of happiness is a false god. For example, we now know from brain science that even (happy) memories are constructed by us as we are now, i.e., what we want them to be for us now, rather than entities stored away as if in a mental filing cabinet.
We like what The Economist said about this book: “If you want to be reassured that you are special, you will hate this book. But if you like thoughtful polemics, it is worth logging off Facebook to read it.”
THE BROOKS ‘CHARACTER’ CONVERSATION
The Keynes Centre Book Club has compiled some reading resources (links in orange) which we hope will enhance your engagement with this thought-provoking book.
DISCLAIMER:The Keynes Centre and staff do not benefit in any way from this recommendation.
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