Published On: Sun, May 3rd, 2015

David Brooks Sparks Controversy With His New Book ‘The Road to Character’

“Brooks is a wealthy high achiever and – if this book is any guide – he doesn’t like himself very much."


David Brooks has a new book out and, as expected, it is stirring controversy. “The Road to Character, ” is already a New York Times Best Seller.

The Road to Character is about virtue and morality. In it Brooks criticizes people for not doing enough to improve themselves and sees a lack of personal responsibility among many of America’s poor.

In the aftermath of what has just happened in Baltimore, Brooks argues that the real cause of the problems faced by people like Freddie Gray and his family is the failure of their communities and themselves, not discrimination.

The conservative writer, who is a columnist for the Times, said of his new book, “I wrote this book not sure I could follow the road to character, but I wanted at least to know what the road looks like and how other people have trodden it.”

But many reviewers have dismissed Brook’s arguments as being based on a misreading of the facts and government data. New York Magazine wrote, “Nobody should take it seriously, particularly not when it is based on a bizarre misreading of federal data on poverty.”

“Brooks is claiming that federal spending on anti-poverty programs is not lifting families out of poverty… when the government specifically does not include the value of those very programs in its poverty calculations, ” it added.

The Guardian called the book, “a smug search for the roots of good nature.”

“Brooks is a wealthy high achiever and – if this book is any guide – he doesn’t like himself very much. He dislikes the narcissistic society, “The Big Me”, of which he is a part, even more. So he wrote the book to reach for something more than happiness, he tells us, with an ironic touch of the self-centered, “to save my soul.”

Even his own New York Times was less than kind in its review. “A deeper problem is that all the eminences and ideals extolled are covered so hastily that a passage in Chapter 8 will, again and again, clash with one in Chapter 5. Hardly have we emerged from pages about the value of reason and self-­sacrifice than suddenly, out of nowhere, Brooks is serving up a (quite stirring) ­seven-page rhapsody to romantic love, ” it said.

“Minutes after we’ve been introduced to the charms of Montaigne and his unceasing examination of his whims and preferences, we’re advised that the lust for self-expression is treacherous. The columnist’s grace is to avoid being predictable, but across the length of a book this can result in flagrant self-contradiction.”

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