When I was teaching seniors, I always struggled to find books that would teach some “life lessons” before they went off into the real world. I would often turn to short stories or compilations of stories to either fill in the gaps or add to a lesson for a book I was already teaching.
The Road to Character, by David Brooks, would be a perfect addition to that list.
This book counteracts some of the “advice” our kids have been getting in recent generations: that the answers to all of life’s problems can be found within. Brooks argues that we are missing something deeply profound when we see ourselves this way. He introduces the book by saying there are two virtues we pursue in life: resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues (money, power, success) are not the virtues he focuses on in The Road to Character. Rather, he focuses on the importance of cultivating “eulogy virtues”, or the things people will say about us and our legacy when we die.
Brooks highlights several historical figures, from Dwight Eisenhower to Dorothy Day (my favorite chapter- fascinating) to several Civil Rights figures. He links them all by connecting their inner struggles: to serve, to find deeper meaning in life, to humble themselves and sacrifice of themselves to contribute meaningfully to the world.
As the book is so easily broken down by chapters, I love the idea of taking the book in pieces into a classroom. Students could read just one chapter and present it to each other for a small group project, or as a large-class (TOK) project. The book could also be used as a springboard for debate on many levels– are the values Brooks highlights relevant today? (I would argue yes, more than ever!)
A fascinating read and highly recommended!