"The Second Mountain" by David Brooks. A Review

The Second MountainThe Second Mountain by David  Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

David Brooks, author, speaker, executive director of the Aspen Institute and launcher of the WEAVE program, has handed the American public something of a secular version of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes in his recently published "The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life". This 384 page hardback is clearly friendly to faith, family, community and conjugality. And it is filled with words from a man who has entered a new stage of life where he looks back over his years seeing that in some ways, much of it was vanity of vanities and chasing after the wind. Or, as he puts it, "For many, the big choices in life often aren't really choices; they are quicksand. You just sink into the place you happen to be standing" (108). But what matters most is enjoying your life, your wife, the sun and the night, the neighborhood wherein you live, and the people with whom you engage. But unlike Ecclesiastes, there is no final end of the matter; there is no fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man conclusion.

Though Brooks writes a valuable script that will resonate well with many people of faith, much of the motive seems to be the very individualism he is trying to curb. It will make my world better if you and I do these thing; it will make you and me fulfilled if we share lovingkindness and build community; it will give your kids and mine a more wholesome future; etc. Don't get me wrong. I loved reading the book, and the author has done a masterful job unpacking the importance of faith and family, ritual and relationships, community and calling. Also, there are several bright and budding perceptions - such as the two chapters on the stages of community building. In the end, though, the subtle pull was "me". How I can be part of something bigger, better, and more blessed that I might find fulfillment. This is really my only critique, and why I call it something of a secular version of Ecclesiastes.

Yet, the overwhelming tenor of the book is healthy and wholesome! For example, as he unpacks the telos crisis in many American lives, he will hit a nerve and raise many voices of agreement. As he walks us through the social valley between the two mountains, we will be nodding our heads affirmatively as he traces out the loneliness crisis, the distrust, the crisis of meaning, the growing and raging tribalism, and suffering. I was beset on many sides while delving into the book; furiously marking it up here and jotting notes there. Much in this manuscript will feed the heart and stoke the fires of purpose. Surely Brooks is correct in seeing that our "society has become a conspiracy against joy" (xxii), and he, for one, is seeking to do something about it! Do we dare join the movement?

It was good for my soul to read "The Second Mountain". Many of Brooks's concerns about the rising suicides, intensifying anxieties and violent melees in our day are my concerns as well. And the overwhelming discussions, designs and directions gave me lots to ponder. Not only will a host of Boomers find the book valuable, but I think Xers, Millennials and iGens (or whatever they will be called) will be rescued from many a wrong turn as they read and learn. If it is at all possible, I encourage you to pick up a copy and read it before the month is out. I happily recommend the book.


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