By his own account, David Brooks, broadcaster and conservative columnist for the New York Times, has “a natural disposition for shallowness” and is paid to be “a narcissistic blow hard.” It’s a brutal self-assessment, but one that led to his latest book, The Road to Character. In it, Brooks examines those people who are in stark contrast to him—historical figures marked by “selflessness, generosity, and self sacrifice.”
There’s Dorothy Day, champion of the poor; Ida Eisenhower, lifelong pacifist and mother of Dwight; civil rights leaders A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin; and Francis Perkins, dedicated labor activist and first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet, among others. While Brooks is long on “résumé virtues”—wealth, status, and fame—these folks, he says, model “eulogy virtues,” such as bravery, honesty, and loyalty.
Does one type outweigh the other? What’s the recipe for balance between the two? Is one born into character or is character entirely learned and cultivated? At once a study of psychology, spirituality, politics, and the self, Brooks explores these questions and more, but he makes no promises. “I wrote this book not sure I could follow the road to character,” he says, “but I wanted at least to know what the road looks like and how other people have trodden it.”
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