In this learned, beautifully written, and often hilarious book, New York Times columnist David Brooks reflects on virtues that form desirable character traits in individuals as well as in the wider culture. He ranges over a rolling landscape of human experience, sharpening his vision through the lens of classic literary, theological, and philosophical texts, as well as insights drawn from his work as a journalist. He offers biographical case studies to show how things have worked out in the complexities of daily life. Along the way, he treats readers to minisermons on topics such as the delicate textures of long-married love (“Love you? I am you”). Brooks says that as he wrote the book, he was unsure whether he could follow the road to character himself, but he wanted to figure out what it “looks like and how other people have trodden it.”

The volume rests on a fundamental distinction between two sets of traits that Brooks calls résumé virtues and eulogy virtues. Drawing on Rabbi Joseph Solo­veitchik’s 1965 masterwork The Lonely Man of Faith, he explains that the former virtues express themselves in a bundle of features he dubs Adam I, the latter in a bundle called Adam II.

Résumé—or Adam I—virtues are the ones we feature in the job market when we tout our skills and showcase our ability to build, produce, create, and discover. They help us claim success by beating out the competition. Résumé virtues are valuable as far as they go. But unrestrained, they perpetuate many of life’s most intractable problems: greed, racism, sexism, violence, perversity, deception, and—worse—self-deception.