... 300+ pages that will likely cause legions of readers to reassess how they want to spend the rest of their days ... By weaving together dozens of pearls from this spectrum of world-class thinkers and unifying their thoughts into an account of his faith pilgrimage, Brooks demonstrates powers of synthesis that surely rise to the level of genius ... For those who have now finished this review of The Second Mountain and decide to forego Brooks’ new book, here’s hoping that the rest of your life on the First Mountain provides some measure of Instagram happiness, and that you never tire of singing Peggy Lee’s most melancholy song.
This is beautiful stuff. In admitting to his failure as a husband, Brooks tantalizes with a promise to chronicle his own unsteady recovery. In this, he only partially delivers ... What follows reads, unfortunately, like one long commencement address ... His argument, inspiring in his introduction, quickly becomes repetitive and tendentious. He has a penchant for lists...for italicized Greek and Hebrew words (chessed: Hebrew for loving kindness) and for the kinds of stories politicians often cite in proclaiming what they take to be the enduring goodness of their version of real Americans ... His book would be immensely more powerful with more [doubt]. Nor is there any of the self-deprecating humor we might expect from someone who has climbed the second mountain ... Despite lots of illuminating and profound quotes and stories, he never makes us smile.
Brooks, one of the most influential columnists of our time, tells a compelling redemption story ... an ambitious volume, part sermon, part self-help guide and part sociological treatise, replete with quotes and stories from Tolstoy, Moses, Orwell and others. The book ends with a list of more than 60 numbered prescriptions. At times it can feel overwhelming, even overstuffed ... Yet the book is deeply moving, frequently eloquent and extraordinarily incisive. It is hopeful in the best sense.
The book, whose subtitle is The Quest for a Moral Life, combines Brooks’s patented brand of quick-sketch pop sociology with a heartfelt but paper-thin and incomplete religious conversion narrative ... he wishes our society...would consider more deeply the communal ethos of Christianity ... He does not, of course, want a more communal society. You will find no suggestion here that capitalism, the ubiquitous ordering economic and social system of our entire civilization, produces consumerist individualism ... The Second Mountain loves examples, but it eschews specifics. In a late section on community building, for example, it races through a litany of community groups and non-profits, to zero cumulative effect ... For a book that so confidently outlines a hike toward happiness, it is notably hard to follow. The book’s tone alternates, sometimes within a single paragraph, between the citation-heavy pop psychology of a TED talk and the aw-shucks wisdom of a homily at a prosperous stone church in a D.C. suburb. Meanwhile, the concepts Brooks leans on most heavily are both elusive and parsed within an inch of their lives ... The Second Mountain reads as if it’s an early draft that was inexplicably rushed to print. It has the inchoate quality of an idea that’s still gestating.
The more Brooks works to describe the joy of second-mountain people, the more frankly sexual it sounds ... Brooks has chosen a dauntingly broad topic—more or less, what it might mean to live a conscious and virtuous life. As a committed generalist, his sources of authority are wide-ranging ... For a book about transformation, most of the people whom Brooks describes are static figures, exemplars of the first mountain or the second. The only soul in motion belongs to Brooks ... The bait is that the book is about us; the switch is that it is about him. 'This is ultimately a book about renewal,' Brooks writes, but the story he tells is so centrally about one experience of renewal that it offers little guidance to the rest of us. The characters in this book don’t climb the second mountain, not really. They simply appear up there, as if by some form of magic.
Across more than 300 pages of heartfelt prose, Brooks reworks the problem into a neat story ... Brooks’ willingness to be 'a little vulnerable' results in a refreshing honest confession, even though some anti-Catholics will use it as an excuse for dismissing his entire oeuvre.
Despite his skill with words, Brooks chooses to write most of this book in abstract prose — and despite the author’s strong case for community, the reader’s eyes may start glazing over ... a long, long sermon ... Finally, some readers will be dismayed — while others will be relieved — that nowhere in this book does Brooks write the name Trump.
There have been scores of books written about self-discovery. David Brooks goes one step further in The Second Mountain whose goal is to set you free by re-discovering yourself ... Regarding love, Brooks offers valuable advice on what makes for a healthy, lasting relationship ... Brooks takes several missteps in the book. One is failing to acknowledge that not everyone has the good fortune to reach the first mountain top, nevermind struggling out of the valley and scaling the second one. His tone can be judgmental and preachy as he presents the 'right' way of living, implying that not following his moralistic prescription means living the 'wrong' way ... [Brooks's] insistence that the emotion of awe stems from something spiritual rather than from bio-neurochemistry is nothing more than opinion posing as fact. Considering his focus on community, this kind of narrow-mindedness seems oddly hypocritical and dismissive.
[Brooks'] argument can be daunting, partly due to length but also because of the weighty examples Brooks provides—it is difficult to picture ourselves striving to live our lives like Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Theresa. But if readers can approach Brooks’ core message with an open mind, potentially life-changing lessons can be found in this relevant and thought-provoking book.
... [a] heartfelt, earnest pilgrimage toward self-awakening and commitment ... Essentially, he sets out to create a blueprint for moral transformation by eschewing the hyperindividualism we are taught to champion as children and which, he concludes via social data, leads only to loneliness, distrust of institutions, loss of purpose, and tribalism ... Brooks is a heart-on-his-sleeve writer, and his language is not terribly profound, but his message is accessible and inclusive ... A thoughtful work that offers an uplifting message to those struggling in the wilderness of career and existential challenge.
As he teases apart his metaphor, Brooks relates his own experiences: a newfound love after divorce and a religious awakening that has brought him to the cusp of Christianity from Judaism. While some readers will find his revelations obvious, Brooks’s melding of personal responsibility with respect for community will have broad appeal.