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Book Review Brooks, David (2015) The Road to Character, New York: Random House By Gloria Donnelly, PhD, RN, Dean
College of Nursing and Health Professions

The Road to Character by David Brooks

The Road to Character is a deep and winding analysis of the concept of character, that facet of humanity that is built through life’s struggles.  A frequent panelist on Meet the Press and a New York Times columnist, David Brooks explores the concept of character through Soloveitchik’s metaphor of Adam I and Adam II, the yin and yang of human nature.  Adam I concerns our “resume virtues,” the outcomes of our building, creating, producing and discovering.  Adam II reflects our “eulogy virtues,” the desire to do good, to distinguish between right and wrong, to serve others through self-sacrifice, to question our reason for being and to struggle against our own weaknesses.  Adam I focuses on “success” and Adam II on “life as a moral drama.”

Brooks examines facets of character building through the disparate lives of 10 individuals; Frances Perkins, Dwight Eisenhower, Dorothy Day, General George Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, George Eliot, St. Augustine, Samuel Johnson and Johnny Unitas; saints, political, military and civil rights leaders, writers and a football star.  For example, Frances Perkins, a political ally of Franklin D. Roosevelt, was a brilliant, self-effacing, stoic New Englander who eventually became FDR’s Secretary of Labor.  She struggled to maneuver in the hyper masculine political environment of Washington, DC, was accused of being a communist and endured vicious impeachment proceedings which concluded with no action to impeach.  Despite the fact that she was a major architect of the New Deal, FDR would not speak on her behalf and remained “above it all” for fear of sullying his own reputation.  Vignettes like these are strewn through each essay as Brooks exquisitely ties one’s journey through struggles and moral crises to pivotal life experiences, values instilled in childhood and influential persons.

Reading this book creates the urge to review one’s own resume and to insert among the lists of publications, honors, grants and appointments those personal struggles and moral crises that have significantly shaped who we are, how we act and how we live our lives in relationship to others.  In the end, it will be the eulogy virtues that matter most and David Brooks is helping us to refocus on their importance.