The Road to Character by David Brooks

“When people remember the crucial events that formed them, they don’t usually talk about happiness. It is usually the ordeals that seem most significant. Most people shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.”

Awhile back I read David Brooks’ The Social Animal. I found the book fairly interesting with many appealing thoughts about the human condition. I decided to pick up The Road to Character because it was highly recommended by other authors and leaders who liked it more than The Social Animal.

The Road to Character is about values - those deep traits that define who you are. More specifically, this book is about constructing those values. Our values are not created on a whim, they cannot be attained or formed through passing knowledge. Values are about a journey of choices; persistence throughout one’s life.

Each chapter follows the life of a particular person, some famous and some not. Brooks dissects each life. He finds the everyday moments, decisions, and experiences that shaped him or her. As the quote above states, most of the experiences are not flowery, instead these moments are difficult and some downright miserable. But they were all persistent. Each individual could have chosen an easier road, but thankfully – to all of us – they did not.

I loved how Brooks refused to be romantic. It is easy to look back and see the “good ol’ days” as superior. Brooks makes it very clear that the past is riddled with atrocities; though he sees modern society’s obvious flaws, he knows the past was worst.

What I disliked about this book: I didn’t find a lot of the stories interesting. I am not sure why. All of characters in the book lived interesting, world-changing lives, however I found myself wandering a lot while reading. My theory: Brooks is an amazing article writer, he can paint a great picture with few words. So in the case of Brooks (in my opinion), less is more.