The Road to Character
This was a good book, though not quite what I expected. Though, I guess, I didn’t expect anything, but the introduction didn’t quite set the book up for what it was.
The intro discusses a radio show replay the author heard. It was an episode of “Command Performance” that happened right after V-J day back in World War II. It affected him because it wasn’t prideful or boasting – rather, it was reserved and dignified. Even though the United States had just won the war, no one was slapping themselves on the back.
The author chalks this up to “character.”
The book then takes a turn I didn’t expect. Every chapter is a biography of some historical figure who the author feels possesses “character.” It dissects their life and talks about all the influences and habits – both good and bad – that formed them into who they became and what they accomplished. Some of these characters are good people, and some are, honestly, not great people. There’s just as many bad habits as good.
In the end, the author circles back to a discussion of what makes “character.” His claim seems to boil down to humility – the willingness to set aside the self and concentrate on some larger goal. The author laments the rise of the “Big Me,” where successive generations have become more and more self-centered and narcissistic and less willing to set themselves aside.
The book was inspirational, but not ground-breaking. Honestly, I think you could read the intro, 1-2 of the chapters, and the conclusion and come away with the gist of the book. You could even just read the conclusion and get quite a bit out of it.
It’s helped immeasurably that the author – David Brooks, a conservative-ish columnist – is such a good writer. He writes with an easiness that just keeps pushing you forward. I looked forward to picking up the book every day, and that’s a victory in itself.