Behave: Book summary and reviews of Behave by Robert M. Sapolsky

Behave

The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

by Robert M. Sapolsky

Behave by Robert M. Sapolsky X
Behave by Robert M. Sapolsky
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Book Summary

Why do we do the things we do? More than a decade in the making, this game-changing book is Robert Sapolsky's genre-shattering attempt to answer that question as fully as perhaps only he could, looking at it from every angle.

Sapolsky's storytelling concept is delightful but it also has a powerful intrinsic logic: he starts by looking at the factors that bear on a person's reaction in the precise moment a behavior occurs, and then hops back in time from there, in stages, ultimately ending up at the deep history of our species and its evolutionary legacy.

And so the first category of explanation is the neurobiological one. A behavior occurs - whether an example of humans at our best, worst, or somewhere in between. What went on in a person's brain a second before the behavior happened? Then Sapolsky pulls out to a slightly larger field of vision, a little earlier in time: What sight, sound, or smell caused the nervous system to produce that behavior? And then, what hormones acted hours to days earlier to change how responsive that individual is to the stimuli that triggered the nervous system? By now he has increased our field of vision so that we are thinking about neurobiology and the sensory world of our environment and endocrinology in trying to explain what happened.

Sapolsky keeps going: How was that behavior influenced by structural changes in the nervous system over the preceding months, by that person's adolescence, childhood, fetal life, and then back to his or her genetic makeup? Finally, he expands the view to encompass factors larger than one individual. How did culture shape that individual's group, what ecological factors millennia old formed that culture? And on and on, back to evolutionary factors millions of years old. 

The result is one of the most dazzling tours d'horizon of the science of human behavior ever attempted, a majestic synthesis that harvests cutting-edge research across a range of disciplines to provide a subtle and nuanced perspective on why we ultimately do the things we do...for good and for ill. Sapolsky builds on this understanding to wrestle with some of our deepest and thorniest questions relating to tribalism and xenophobia, hierarchy and competition, morality and free will, and war and peace. Wise, humane, often very funny, Behave is a towering achievement, powerfully humanizing, and downright heroic in its own right.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Sapolsky's big ideas deserve a wide audience and will likely shape thinking for some time." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. [Sapolsky] does an excellent job of bringing together the expansive literature of thousands of fascinating studies with clarity and humor… a tour-de-force." - Library Journal

"Starred Review. An exemplary work of popular science, challenging but accessible." - Kirkus

"Sapolsky finds not the high moral drama of the soul choosing good or evil but rather down-to-earth biology… a remarkably encyclopedic survey of the sciences illuminating human conduct." - Booklist

"Behave is like a great historical novel, with excellent prose and encyclopedic detail. It traces the most important story that can ever be told." - Edward O. Wilson

"This is a miraculous book, by far the best treatment of violence, aggression, and competition ever ... He even takes on "free will" with a clarity usually absent from the writings of philosophers on the subject. All this is done brilliantly with a light and funny touch that shows why Sapolsky is recognized as one of the greatest teachers in science today." - Paul R. Ehrlich

"Read Robert Sapolsky's marvelous book Behave and you'll never again be surprised by the range and depth of our own bad behavior." - Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better

This information about Behave shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Robert M. Sapolsky Author Biography

Photo: Robert M. Sapolsky

Robert M. Sapolsky is a professor of biology, neuroscience, and neurosurgery at Stanford University, researcher and author. He has authored several works of nonfiction, including A Primate's Memoir, The Trouble with Testosterone, and Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. He is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. In addition, he is a Research Associate at the National Museums of Kenya. He lives in San Francisco.

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  • A Primate's Memoir jacket
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