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Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

by Robert M. Sapolsky
Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

by Robert M. Sapolsky


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The New York Times Bestseller

“It’s no exaggeration to say that Behave is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read.” —David P. Barash, The Wall Street Journal

"It has my vote for science book of the year.” Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

"Hands-down one of the best books I’ve read in years. I loved it." —Dina Temple-Raston, The Washington Post

Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal 

From the celebrated neurobiologist and primatologist, a landmark, genre-defining examination of human behavior, both good and bad, and an answer to the question: Why do we do the things we do?

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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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143110910
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/01/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 800
Sales rank: 16,296
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

Robert M. Sapolsky is the author of 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. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, two children and dogs.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 The Behavior 15

2 One Second Before 21

3 Seconds to Minutes Before 81

4 Hours to Days Before 99

5 Days to Months Before 137

6 Adolescence; or, Dude, Where's My Frontal Cortex? 154

7 Back to the Crib, Back to the Womb 174

8 Back to When you were Just a Fertilized Egg 223

9 Centuries to Millennia Before 266

10 The Evolution of Behavior 328

11 Us versus Them 387

12 Hierarchy, Obedience, and Resistance 425

13 Morality and Doing the Right Thing, Once You've Figured Out What That Is 478

14 Feeling Someone's Pain, Understanding Someone's Pain, Alleviating Someone's Pain 521

15 Metaphors We Kill By 553

16 Biology, The Criminal Justice System, and (OH, Why Not?) Free Will 580

17 War and Peace 614

Epilogue 671

Acknowledgments 676

Appendix 1 Neuroscience 101 679

Appendix 2 The Basics of Endocrinology 707

Appendix 3 Protein Basics 711

Glossary of Abbreviations 718

Notes 721

Illustration Credits 774

Index 775

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