There is no doubt that The Road to Character is a labour of love; the author, New York Times columnist David Brooks, begins with the following confession: “I wrote it, to be honest, to save my own soul.” Brooks elaborates: he is paid to give his opinions, to sound smart and be a “narcissistic blowhard.”. But he senses that he is veering towards a life of moral mediocrity. The Road to Character is a sincere attempt to figure out how to be a better person, someone “with iron in their core.”
By examining the lives of nine very different personalities—including St Augustine, George Eliot, and Dwight Eisenhower—Brooks comes up with his own fifteen-point guide to character building.
The author begins with a reflection on Rabbi Soloveitchik’s Lonely Man of Faith, which posits the idea of two Adams: Adam I, who was made in God’s image, and Adam II, who came from dust. Brooks ‘modernizes’ Soloveitchik’s interpretation and says that we each have two Adams within us: Adam I is concerned only with the external; he is ambitious and creative and values what Brooks calls our “résumé virtues”—those qualities that we list, in other words, on our CV. Adam II, on the other hand, is thoughtful and concerned with morality; he embodies our “eulogy virtues”—namely what people will remember when we are dead. Brooks roots adamantly for the latter, which he views as superior. “This book,” he tells us, “is about Adam II.”
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