KP Reads

The Second Mountain by David Brooks

The author and New York Times columnist describes his quest to live a moral life.


Many times over the last 18-plus years I have wondered why I feel so much at home and so contented on the Key Peninsula. Certainly, there are many similarities to Scotland but that really doesn’t explain it. But after reading David Brooks’ book “The Second Mountain” I had my epiphany.  

I love living here because the KP is filled with people climbing up or standing on the summit of their second mountain and that creates a feeling of real community where I can belong.  

Brooks clearly articulates the feeling of dissatisfaction and lack of fulfillment that troubles many traditionally successful people. They achieve everything that society tells them they should want and strive for, but on arrival they feel empty and troubled. There are also people who still have a lot of energy left after summiting the first mountain and aren’t ready to sit out the rest of their lives.  

A good proportion of those climbing that first mountain suffer some kind of crisis and are knocked into a dark valley. The lucky and the strong among them get out of the valley, change course and set off up the other slope.

This book is part memoir because David Brooks uses his own life and his own struggles to demonstrate what he has found important in the quest for a moral life. He also tells stories of people he has met who are successful in living this life and the difference they have made in the world, whether it be in their local community or further afield.

Brooks describes four essential components to a life filled with contentment and satisfaction. They are vocation, marriage and relationships, philosophy and faith, and community.  

He says the emphasis over the last 60 years on being independent has led to a society of lonely and unconnected people. We have lost trust in the causes and institutions that used to give life meaning and purpose. We seek fleeting happiness instead of the much more durable feeling of joy. As a society we are adrift because we have been taught to always put ourselves first.

Some people find their vocation in childhood, and some are in middle age before the realization comes to them. The insightful and lucky among us can combine a career with our vocation. As Brooks sees it, being able to spend time and energy on your passion makes for a contented and fulfilled person. People who never take the time to discover why they are on Earth are always discontented.  

“The Second Mountain” also explores the idea of the maximal marriage where both partners undertake an evolution to complete commitment. This is not to be confused with abandoning who you are but is a process of allowing yourself to become dependent to achieve something larger. In a successful marriage, the victories of our partners are at least as important to us as our own.  

Brooks talks about his own journey to faith but refrains from espousing any religion. Instead, he offers a doorway into many different thinkers on spirituality and introduces the reader to authors who merit further investigation.

“The Second Mountain” describes a healthy community as “a thick system of relationships” where people care about and look out for each other. In my experience that is what makes the KP such a special place. We know what people in our community need and we work hard to provide as much of it as we possibly can. There are many joyful people on this peninsula deeply involved in our nonprofit organizations.

It is difficult to condense the essence of “The Second Mountain” into a short article. I have now read it carefully twice through and feel sure that I will uncover more nuggets of gold during a third reading.  

If I aimed to study all the information on how to lead a moral life and then condense the findings into a single practical book, “The Second Mountain” would be exactly what I would hope to achieve. Each time I have finished the book I have been seized by the desire to be a better person. I want to be more engaged in my community; to be a better friend, a better employee, a better spouse. I may not live long enough to achieve any of that, but “The Second Mountain” has inspired me to try