52 Books a Year: #20 - On Paradise Drive

Posted by Brian Mon, 23 Nov 2009 02:45:09 GMT

On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense
By David Brooks


I was familiar with David Brooks from his appearances on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer alongside Mark Shields and always came away very impressed with the fact that there was a conservative on TV who was willing to engage in meaningful debate. I know many of them exist, but they get drowned out in the usual 24-hour news format hyperbole. So when I saw On Paradise Drive by David Brooks at the library book sale I immediately picked it up. Unfortunately it ended up high on style with a lot of seemingly misguided substance.

Brooks attempts to make the argument that we are a future-oriented people, always looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. While this is true to a certain extent, that pot of gold we are looking forward to is today often just a big screen TV. While we may look to the future with an idyllic eye, the things we are looking to aren’t those that will bring any lasting happiness. At the same time we turn a blind eye towards the future of weightier issues, such as our environment and debt with the hope that they will just work themselves out.

Where his observations are right on is how this relates to our work ethic. Looking towards the future is how we allow ourselves to work terrible jobs for low pay. The idea that it will all be better in the future drives on on. His Fry! concept also seems to speak to a strong American trait, namely our ability to devote our lives to perfecting some absolutely trivial thing. His biggest example is the french fry. Think of how many people have devoted their lives to making the perfect fast-food french fry. Is their any rationality to this? Not really, but our ability to focus so intently on something so small is one reason why we have pushed out so many technological innovations in our history.

Despite the lower score I would recommend this book. While many of Brooks’ observations may not stand up, he has an engaging writing style and the book moves along quickly. It’s not heavy reading and there is enough to learn to merit picking it up.


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