The Road to Character

The Road to Character. By David Brooks.  New York: Penguin Random House, 2015. (Kindle edition).


David Brooks

David Brooks

Many of our readers know David Brooks from his editorials in the New York Times and his television appearances. For some time he has been writing editorials on what constitutes character. This is the trait of soul that marks a person of moral strength and inner growth through what he calls the “eulogy virtues” as opposed to the “resume’ virtues”. The former refers to the virtues that develop the interior virtues of humility, fidelity, honesty, etc. that are the core of what a person is rather than what a person achieves or for which he/she is applauded.

Brooks has written several books describing these virtues which were developed by classical cultures such as the Greek and Latin. He points to a shift that has occurred in recent years and decades which emphasize career and success rather than the inner qualities that distinguish a person by moral strength.

The author studies several individuals who exemplify the virtues he believes contribute to progress on the road to character. All share the struggle to be their better selves. Among them are Frances Perkins, Dwight Eisenhower, George C. Marshall, Philip Randolph, George Eliot, St. Augustine of Hippo, Samuel Johnson, Dorothy Day, Nelson Mandella and Montaigne. The dashing Joe Namath and more self-effacing Johnny Unitas present a good example in contrast in the last chapter of the book.

Brooks acknowledges his indebtedness to Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik for the inspiration of Adam I and Adam II as models for resume’ virtues and eulogy virtues.  The author  presents the Judeo-Christian tradition very well in a contemporary and readable style that argue for some of the traditions of the past which can counter some of the liabilities of the “I’ve got to be me”  culture. The wisdom accumulated over centuries and millennia  continue to exemplify a way of life and moral strength that is still needed today.