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BOOK CLUB: From Strength to Strength

Updated: Feb 14


From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life is a nonfiction book by Arthur Brooks (2022). It was a New York Times #1 bestseller for several months. ­­In 2019, Brooks became a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School. For a decade before that, he was the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, DC, that research issues in economics, politics, and society. And it is the second book written by Brooks that our group has taken on.

.............................................................................................. Why Chris Recommends This Read:

"Through the very work that we do on a daily basis here at Gentian, we encounter retirees from all walks of life. It seemed some of our clients were profoundly happy and some of them ...just weren't.

It shook my confidence as I came to see that even if our team knocked it out of the park and delivered expert planning on the finance side of the equation, to truly support a fulfilled retirement for our clients we had to go beyond the finance (and by 'beyond' I mean way beyond).

The worldly belief that those with the most wealth were the happiest people overall, was disproven. Once this happened, for me, my entire view on the industry I serve shifted. It was in that moment, that I knew, of equal importance to managing the wealth, must be to share what I was seeing from our clients firsthand. In so doing, my hope was, that we could provide something more meaningful than wealth.

I quest now to support those who truly want to narrow in focus on finding true happiness as we near, enter and exist in retirement. The books I have consumed along the way have helped to shape my research. Strength to Strength was a book I felt broke things down and provided an understanding of the 'WHY' behind this dissatisfaction and emptiness we were seeing. Why do we feel this in the wake of great success?

Admittedly, the opening chapters had me on the defense as the science was shared. As it continued, I opened my mind to the possibility and felt at peace with the explanation of 'Fluid vs Crystalized intelligence' as less of a mental decline and more of a mental shift. What's more, I felt armed with tools of acceptance and victory. The book provides actions we can take to best support a purpose filled retirement and that is the reason I selected it for our Gentian Book club to ponder.” Please enjoy and share any perspectives you gain!

-Chris Doughty

Summary (source:

The Introduction relates a story that kicked off the book’s premise and led Brooks on the path of research In 2012, Brooks overhead a very famous man on a plane talking to his wife. The man complained that he no longer felt needed, and he felt it would be better if he were dead. He was still revered by people, but his exploits were in the distant past. Brooks was intrigued about what research said about people who accomplished much early in life and what happened as they aged. What he learned was that people in nearly every profession experienced a decline starting in middle age, which he discusses in Chapter 1.

The second chapter introduces what Brooks calls the “second curve.” If productivity and creativity, what one researcher has called fluid intelligence, show a decline with age, the second curve represents crystallized intelligence. This is the ability to use the inventory of knowledge and wisdom built up earlier in life. The graph of this over time shows an increase, or upward curve, well into the last years of life. Brooks argues that one needs to jump to this second curve as one ages.

The rest of the book focuses on how to do that. Chapters 3 to 5 examine the reasons why people resist moving to the second curve. The first reason, discussed in the third chapter, is addiction to work and the never-ending striving for success. The next chapter explains how attachment to worldly possessions and rewards prevents this shift, as people become accustomed to accumulating ever-increasing quantities of things. Brooks recommends paring down such possessions to only the essentials.

Chapter 5 looks at how the fear of decline keeps people on the striver’s track, pushing themselves harder and harder to maintain their peak level despite impossible odds. Brooks’s advice is for people to ponder their death—even envision it—as a way to break its grip and free themselves to act without fear.

Next, Brooks suggests ways people can prepare themselves for the leap to the second curve. In Chapter 6, he discusses the importance of cultivating and maintaining close personal relationships, as well as why this can be so difficult for overachievers and leaders. Chapter 7 examines the need for spirituality that often accompanies middle age and the ways people can embrace that, even when it doesn’t come naturally. Chapter 8 looks at how to drop one’s defensiveness about weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Being open about one’s weaknesses and showing vulnerability often leads to unexpectedly deep connections with others and even a new, more rewarding path.

In the last chapter, Brooks delves into making the leap to the second curve, why transitions are challenging, and how to overcome them. In fact, transitions can be opportunities as much as crises. Finally, the Conclusion summarizes the book’s advice in a seven-word mantra. Brooks reminds people that love is the key to happiness, but only love for people, not things.

The main themes discussed in the book are Managing the Mental Decline That Comes With Aging, Love as the Key to Happiness, and The Importance of Spirituality.


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