Author David Brooks’ new book, The Second Mountain, can best be summarized by a 1960’s song and film, “What’s It All About Alfie”? The book is about a middle aged man who is thinking about what’s beyond the first mountain: college, career, job and defining self.
In an earlier book, Brooks divided life into Adam I and Adam II, the eulogy virtues and the resume virtues, essentially what people say about you when you’re dead and what is on your resume. In his latest attempt to explain what life is all about, Brooks organizes his writing around the First Mountain, acquisition, and the Second Mountain, the giving of self, the shedding of ego.
The most striking aspect of the book is the number of quotations and references to authors and people the writer has met, several per page and sometimes three in one paragraph. It is as if he outlined the points he wanted to make and then googled to find numerous references to support the ideas. He acknowledges that he has an unorthodox writing style which includes getting down on the floor with a pile of papers to figure out how it all fits together.
The Second Mountain is really about Brooks’ journey from being a sometimes Jew to being a Christian/Jew with a divorce and remarriage along the way.
Readers will find much in this book about how to live a life for others. Once the author sets up his main theme of First and Second Mountains and how to climb both, the rest of the book is a collection of stories about people who have discovered the meaning of life in The Second Mountain.
Brooks ends his book with a personal manifesto in which there are no quotes. He simply writes about the difference between hyper-individualism and living in relationship, a handbook for how to live life in the Second Mountain.