The introduction and first chapter of The Road to Character are both amazing. I mean, I was underlining passages left and right. Brooks is a wonderful writer and very insightful. I thought his summary of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchick’s Adam I and Adam II argument (from Soloveitchick’s book, Lonely Man of Faith) was thoughtful and easily accessible. There is no doubt that Brooks is most successful when he takes what he knows and draws general conclusions and insights about life. I actually liked this book best when Brooks was teaching me a lesson.
Unfortunately, though, most of the book is made up of overly-exhaustive and somewhat boring biographies of well-known historical figures. Sure, Brooks throws tidbits of insightful commentary throughout, but I wish he had relied less on biographical recountings and more on his own ideas. Instead of structuring each chapter around one or two famous lives, why not use a briefer description of their lives to support his own criteria for a life well-lived? I think that would have made a more interesting book.
My only other complaint, though it is minor, is that there is a lot of religious language in here. It became distracting after a while. Pride, virtue, grace, struggle against sin, defeating weakness–these are all emotionally charged words for me (and I suspect for others, too). I also tend to think that using this language can be a cop out. It’s a bit lazy, easy. I wish Brooks had dropped those familiar words and come up with a more novel and descriptive way to illustrate his concepts.
Still, The Road to Character is interesting. It could be boring at parts, but because those first two sections were so good, I still think it is a worthwhile read.