Hard Wiring
The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, by David Brooks (Random House, 448 pp., $27)


Similarly with Attachment Theory, to which Brooks devotes a whole chapter. This is a topic within child-development psychology, concerned with studying the social-bonding processes in infants. Parental style drives the whole business, says Brooks: “Most of the causal arrows flow from parent to child. . . . The key factor is parental sensitivity.” The properly conditioned child then goes on to form healthy bonds with peers. Other interpretations of the data are possible, though. As naturist author Judith Rich Harris observes pointedly: “The child lets go of Mommy’s hand in order to join his peers, but he takes his genome with him.”

So also with IQ, the most powerful single predictor we have of life outcomes among the normal, with a hundred years of refinement behind it and a database covering tens of millions of test subjects. Brooks’s three-page section “Beyond IQ” is heavily loaded towards skepticism, quoting for example Richard K. Wagner’s writings on “practical intelligence” with no mention of Linda Gottfredson’s authoritative debunking thereof. (“The evidence collapses, however, upon close examination . . .”)

Wherever there is academic controversy, Brooks presents the most nurturist claims uncritically, as if they were settled fact. A reader taking in Brooks’s view would be baffled by the fact that IQ testing, through its close proxies — including the SAT, the LSAT, the Armed Forces Qualification Test, and the carefully informal “aptitude” quizzes administered to job applicants by Microsoft and other high-tech firms — is our single biggest career filter.

Similar omissions and misreadings mar the sociology towards the end of the book. Pondering his experiences at a Washington policy think tank, Harold arrives at a sort of soft communitarianism: “Just as remote and centralized power creates a servile citizenry, decentralized power and community self-government creates an active and co-operative citizenry.” True enough: but what of the evidence — gathered by, among others, social scientist Robert Putnam of Bowling Alone fame (whom Brooks quotes with approval elsewhere) — that ethnic diversity is a major hindrance to communal bonding? And what then of David Brooks’s oft-expressed enthusiasm for increased diversity through more liberal immigration policies?

Setting aside these blemishes, and some Transcendentalist arm-flapping about those unconscious mental processes’ constituting the soul, Brooks has written an interesting book loaded with penetrating social observation. Stylistically The Social Animal is skillfully wrought, with deft transitions from recitative to aria. For example, the account of Erica’s encounters with fashionable biz-school gobbledygook — “Dynamic Systems Theory,” “Business Process Reengineering,” and the rest — segues cleverly into a commentary on scientism. A new literary genre? No; but certainly a neat way to present the human sciences to a general readership.

April 4, 2011    |     Volume LXIII, No. 6

Books, Arts & Manners
  • Adam Garfinkle reviews Known and Unknown: A Memoir, by Donald Rumsfeld.
  • Ethan Gutmann reviews Tragedy in Crimson: How the Dalai Lama Conquered the World but Lost the Battle with China, by Tim Johnson.
  • John Derbyshire reviews The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, by David Brooks.
  • Ross Douthat reviews Battle: Los Angeles.
  • Richard Brookhiser breaks down a concert.
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
The Bent Pin  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .