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4.7 out of 5 stars
Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals
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66 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Monkeyluv is worth reading for seven reasons. The first (1) is that you will finally understand how genes work. The first third of the book is all about dispelling the nature vs nurture debate. It's their interaction, stupid! Once you get the picture on genes, there are some other really interesting reasons to read this book. Reasons two through seven: (2) the articles are on subjects as vast and interesting as Münchhausen by Proxy (where a mother intentionally makes her child ill, like the Sixth Sense), aging, and brain controlling parasites. (3) All the articles appeared before in general-reader publications, like Discovery Magazine, so a non-scientist can understand the ideas. (4) The author does a superb job of applying his neurobiology lens (biology of human brains) to a variety of interesting topics. (5) The reader can zip through this book over a weekend and pick up some wow-I-didn't-know-thats to impress his or her friends, neighbors, and colleagues. (6) The essays are concise and (7) sprinkled with popular humor, which remain from their magazine days.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I absolutely LOVED this book! I read it very quickly and had trouble putting it down. It is fascinating, educational, funny, enjoyable and well written about complex issues.

Sapolsky, who is the author of A Primate's Memoir, The Trouble with Testosterone and Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford and a recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant. I found his genius not only to be in his insight and ability to frame questions and pursue their answers, but also to be able to write about it in a way that is accessible to a "nongenius."

This book is a collection of previously published essays that are updated for this edition (the updates include notes for further reading and on source materials). Sapolsky divides the book into three parts ("Genes and Who We Are," "Our Bodies and Who We Are" and "Society and Who We Are") and introduces each section with cogent current thinking on the issues addressed. For example, to introduce the first section, Sapolsky writes about how the nature-nurture argument is a red herring; genes contribute to personality/behavior when the environment interacts with them in ways conducive to gene-induced behavior! For example, in "Of Mice and (Hu)men Genes," Sapolsky writes about genes that may indicate a proclivity for depression, but only in certain environments, and summarizes that the reader should be wary of simple expanations. (And, he asserts, as humans we may have more responsibility to create positive environments that interact benignly with risky genes than to understand which genes cause what.) In the second section's "Why are Dreams Dreamlike?" Sapolsky illustrates how answering some questions about how the brain and psyche function just brings up other, deeper questions.

Sapolsky's illustrations of his points are fascinating and enlightening (and often funny!). In "The Genetic War Between Men and Women," he writes about how the genes from the father of a species have one goal ("greater, faster, more expensive growth") while genes from the mother have another ("countering that exuberance"). The success comes in nature's ability to balance these goals: "The placenta is ... the scene of a pitched battle, with paternally derived genes pushing [the placenta] to invade more aggressively while maternally derived genes try to hold it back." He lists other examples of this balance in humans and other species. This view of nature and how reproduction is nurtured fascinated me and helped me to see things in a new way.

Sapolsky's topics are wide ranging, and the book reminded me a bit of Freakonomics in its tendency to turn its problem-solving focus on whatever issue crossed its path. For example, in the final section, he writes about the differences between the

religions of desert peoples and the religions of tropical peoples -- the former tend to have a single god with miltaristic iterations and few rights for women while the latter tend toward pantheism and matrilocal marital residence. "Most evidence suggests that the rain-forest mind-set is more of a hothouse attribute, less hardy when uprooted." I guess that's evident, but Sapolsky's writings on the topic, again, gave me a new way to look at something I hadn't considered before. In this book, he addresses game theory, gene mapping, musical tastes, gender-communication issues and neurogenesis with wit, clarity and insight.

I recommend this book if you're the least bit curious about your brain, your body, the natural world and the society in which you live.
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Like most people, I am inundated with new books and papers that need my attention.

But I always make the time to read anything that Sapolsky writes. This book is a collection of essays that show once again, that we have an extraordinarily brilliant iconoclast in our midst. Time and again he demonstrates that he is not afraid to say when he does not know something, but that he also uncommonly good at coming up with new questions and new solutions.

I suggest reading this at the rate of a chapter a day, and meditating on what you have learned: you will not regret it!

The whole thing is witty, unconventional and brilliant!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
It's easy to tack the disparaging label "pop science" to this book. That would be misleading and counterproductive. What, after all, is "popular science" but science for non-scientists. From a broader perspective this book is informative, enlightening and ably suited for its intended task. Among other virtues, this book is a well-written account of what too many of us believe is valid science. It then discloses where we are mistaken in that belief and provides corrections. In his vividly rendered chapters, Sapolsky offers numerous challenges to "established" thinking. The challenges are often raw and forceful, but they must be understood fully.

A primate researcher, the author has spent many years studying baboon behaviour. Those who fear comparison with other primates may be uncomfortable with Sapolsky's conclusions. The material he draws upon for support, however, shows how universal many of our own behaviours are among our close relatives. In this book, he takes up three themes - why searching for "a gene for" any specific behaviour or illness is doomed to failure; what the body contributes to our personality; and what society contributes in determining our "selves". Each section is preceded by an introductory essay, explaining the significance of the topics discussed.

In the first section he severely condemns those who want to lock behaviour to genetics. That's an admirable end, but the selections weighed in his judgement are nearly all media accounts. Simplifying human behaviour issues sells magazines and newspapers, and his references to "those scientists" who appear to have advocated "nature over nurture" vapourise when you look for them in the text. Still, the elmination of "gene centrism" is an admirable ambition. That is what the public too often sees and the illusion needs expulsion from the collective public consciousness. He reminds us that many "genetic" drives are environmentally triggered. Whatever the rules are genes function under, they aren't rigid ones. Environment contributes, often in a major way.

In the second section, Sapolsky ranges over body-behaviour issues. From the "Twinky Defence" to definitions of dreaming, he explores how the body and brain relate to influence the mind. Emotions result from the cascades of hormones flowing through our bodies. The brain triggers many of these, but the body sends messages to the brain using that chemical medium. While all this may leave the impression that we are almost helpless observers of what these molecular signals drive us to do, the author reminds us that the "big" part of the brain, the frontal cortex, grants us a level of control denied most other animals.

Finally, we are treated to an overview of our relation to the departed. Why is there such an intense drive in humans to deal with the dead? That is most ardently expressed when the body is missing. There are bizarre cases noted here, not the least of which is story of the rituals imposed when the US Navy retrieved the bodies of drowned Japanese fishermen. Yet more intriguing are the cases of mothers finding ways to have their children hospitalised. Each time the mother visited a recovering child, there was a relapse.

That Sapolsky's style is brisk, even fervent at times, shouldn't obscure the fact that there's much in here most of us need to know. When you and your spouse argue, who concedes first? Why is this so? Daily life situations are biologically examined, without the rhetoric that might turn this into a campaign document. There is a message: that we need to learn more about what provides our emotional makeup, from domestic disputes to "over-mothering". Read this and find out what. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Monkey Luv by Robert M. Sapolsky is a great book to pick up and read. In my opinion, the content of this book was easy to comprehend because you do not need to be a neuroscientist in order to understand it. Sapolsky is such a great writer that he makes reading about the brain and behavior easy. He explains how our wonderful minds work and the factors that really affect who we are. Sapolsky includes other publications and examples in his writing, so that anyone can understand what he is talking about. He posts notes and his sources at the end of each chapter for reference and further reading.
Sapolsky writes that genes do not fully define who we are but that environment greatly shapes who we are. Genes produce proteins vital for the brain to function properly. They do not produce behavior but rather tendencies to respond to the environment in certain ways. He explains to us that there isn't a battle between nature and nurture, but that they both work together to make us unique.
Sapolsky explains to us that particular genes will produce a particular protein in different environments. Cold temperatures can make animals activate a gene to produce proteins to act differently. It will make some animals such as bears hibernate when winter is upon them and others might fly south for the winter or react in different ways. The smallest thing in life can affect us a lot.
"Antlers of Clay" is a short passage of Monkey Love where Sapolsky explains what animals look for in mates. He explains that women are more likely to look for a man who is economically established then struggling financial. Women want a bread winner. Sapolsky did not create this theory. David Buss of the University of Texas at Austin surveyed more than ten thousand people from thirty-seven different countries. In every society that Buss examined he noticed that women were interested particularly in men that could support them financially. When women are happy with their mates, they tend to have healthier offspring. Sapolsky states that looks can sometimes mean good genes but what makes the difference is the effort that a female puts into the well-being of her offspring. When women think that they found the perfect mate, their bodies synthesizes more growth hormones and will go the extra mile to take care of their offspring.
Sapolsky throughout his book repeatedly emphasis that environment has a big influence on all living organisms. Environment consists of the surroundings or conditions an animal lives in. Culture is also a large part of our environment and how we live. It determines the type of medical attention we receive, the food we eat, how we earn our bread, and essentially who we are. Not everybody is affected by environment the same way. A person's socioeconomic status is determined by a person's income education and occupation. In our modern world it can determine if you live or die. The poor have the lowest socioeconomic status with very little income and education. Their health tends to be worse than people who are in a higher socioeconomic class. Having money does not make you immune to disease; this just means you have the ability to buy prevention and treatments for illness. The poor tend to have poor health because of their ignorance; people with very little education might not know the horrible effects of smoking.
Sapolsky is really fascinated with the effect that parents have on their children's development. Parents can help their children grow, but when dose helping become a hindrance. Sapolsky feels that parents should have control over their children, but should also let them branch out into the world. There are parents who take there parental control to an extreme. There are parents that belong to cretin religions that reject the use of medicine for healing and use a prayer instead. Sapolsky also feels that the Amish indirectly hurt their children by not allowing them to go to high school with non-Amish classmates in fear that they might want change. Parents can no longer let a child die because they refuse medical care, but the Amish can leave their children unprepared and uneducated. What is the difference? According to Sapolsky Amish children are sheltered from the real world being forced into the same style of life as their parents. What a parent can and can't do with his child is a huge debate today in our country.
Bugs in the brain is my favorite passage of Monkey Luv Sapolsky say that he attends neuroscience conventions from time to time and its quite easy for him to become overwhelmed. "There are thousands of exhibits and posters but, at the end of the day we still don't know much about the brain". Sapolsky tries to explain that viruses and bacteria's can alter our brain functions. Rabies for example is a type of virus that can get into the brain and make its host aggressive. Rabies can drive a subject to bite someone, passing the virus on threw saliva. Sapolsky also presented us with Toxoplasma which is secreted by cats. When rodents ingest it, their fear of cats disappears and they become attracted to cats. Toxoplasma only attracts a rodent too cats but doesn't affect anything else in their daily life. Toxoplasma blows Sapolsky mind and runs circles around neuroscientist.
I really enjoyed Monkey Luv by Robert M. Sapolsky; his book was really fun to read. Sapolsky is such a witty character and the tone in which he tells the story simply captivates me. I personally like how he puts his and other researcher's thoughts together without confusing the reader. Sapolsky kept me hooked with all the small stories throughout the book. It felt like he knew that I have a short attention span. I thought his writing style was innovative. Sapolsky is a very intelligent man yet really down to earth, using words the average Joe can understand. Monkey luv is a must read, if you what to know how our minds works and changes every day.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This collection of essays starts out by rehashing nature/nurture arguments that ought to be widely understood by now, but then becomes mostly entertaining and occasionally quite informative.
He mentions one interesting study (Cunningham and Russell, "Egg investment is influenced by male attractiveness in the mallard)) which questions sexual selection arguments put forward by Geoffrey Miller and others about animals selecting mates with better genes. The study shows that female Mallards produce stronger offspring after mating with more attractive males because they invest more resources in those eggs, rather than because of anything that seems connected to the genes provided by the males.
He helps explain the attraction of gambling by describing experiments which show larger dopamine releases due to rewards that are most uncertain (the subject thinks they have a 50% chance of happening) than is released when there's more certainty (e.g. either a 25% chance or a 75% chance) of the same reward.
One place where I was disappointed was when he described "repressive personalities", which he made seem quite similar to Aspergers, and made me wonder whether I fit his description. "dislike novelty"? My reaction to novelty is sufficiently context-dependent that any answer is plausible. "prefer structure and predictability"? Yes and usually. "poor at expressing emotions or at reading the nuances of emotions in other people"? That's me. "can tell you what they're having for dinner two weeks from Thursday"? I could probably predict 5 days in advance with 50% accuracy, so I'm probably closer than most people. So I Googled and found another description (mentioning the same researcher that Sapolsky mentioned) in the Sciences and find descriptions of "repressive personality" that seem wildly different from me ("a strong personal need for social conformity" and "agreement with statements framed as absolutes, statements loaded with the words never and always"). Who wrote this competing description? Wait, it's the same Sapolsky! It looks like his current description reuses a small piece of an older article with inadequate thought to whether it's complete enough.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
This is another great book in the line of Matt Ridley, driving many coffin nails through genetic determinism, including practitioners of Evolutionary Psychology (with capital letters, as a philosophical mindset) who remain more genetic determinists than they let on while claiming to preach "nature via nurture."

Sapolsky is the real deal on "nature via nurture" - indeed, it should be noted that, with the exception of a totally genetically determined thing like Huntington's disease, he preaches "nature ONLY via nurture," or something along that general line.

Beyond that, he gets into the nuts and bolts of what we know today, and don't know, about non-coding areas of our DNA, which are NOT all simply "junk DNA." Rather, you have introns and exons for marking where a coding sequence of DNA starts and stops, and even more importantly, you have regulatory, or modulating, sections of DNA, which may tell a coding section only to switch on when there are more than 12 hours of daylight per day, which could be used to trigger mating behavior.

Here are some important page by page notes:

23 "More than 95 percent of DNA is non-coding. Sure, a lot of that is the junk-packing material DNA [a lot of which may be "quarantined" remnants of viral DNA, similar to what Norton Utilities does on your PC when necessary], but your average gene comes with a huge instruction manual about how to operate it, and the operator is often environmental."

23-24 "The startling second fact is that when you examine variability in DNA sequences among individuals, the non-coding regions of DNA are considerably more variable than are the regions that code for genes." Sapolsky admits much of this is due to junk DNA areas, but that much of the variability is attributable to regulatory area. Obviously, this has huge impacts on the nurture side of things.

42-44 Good discussion of imprinted genes, which differ from Mendelian biology in that only one is active, usually the one that comes from the parent of the same sex as a child. (Note: this does NOT mean these genes are limited in placement to our sex chromosomes.) The result? These imprinting genes battle for placental and fetal growth, as male and female genes have different "urges" for the placental and fetal rates of growth, due to male-vs-female differences in mammalian breeding strategy. Placental tumors can result if only the paternal gene is active, lack of placental implantation in the uterus when only the maternal gene is active.

61 Offspring of attractive males, in many species studies, survive less often than average.

63. In a study with ducks, with attractive males, it actually appears that the female invests more energy in the egg, laying a larger egg when impregnated by an attractive male. (The egg size is under female control.)

Both of these should put some question to old stereotypes about peacock tails being signs of fitness and so increasing mating, etc. At the least, they should caution us to look for more nuanced explanations.

83ff Limbic and autonomic nervous responses come on- and offline at different rates to one another. In relation to the frontal cortex, this may help explain why intermittent rewards can actually be more psychologically reinforcing than regular ones.

177. In many species, females in some way manipulate alpha-male type males into fighting over them, to go off and mate with more "nice guy" types.

184. Why our desire for revenge? It stems out of game theory, from games such as Prisoners' Dilemma, etc., which show the value of "tit for tat altruism" - if the game is played more than once, especially if one knows a "cheater" will be back in the mix again.

But, in a one-time game, especially where a competitor is informed he/she cannot inform players of future rounds about a cheater, including not being able to inform them through the action of punishing a cheater, then revenge as our self-appointed judge and executioner's pound of flesh seems a natural action, even if we the "cheated" have to expend yet more energy to make the cheater pay.

Hence our actions in today's civilized society, namely such as flipping people off for cutting us off in traffic, etc.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2011
Format: Paperback
If you have read any of his other books: "A Primate's Memoir"A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons or "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers"Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, Third Edition for example, you know that he combines good information with a very entertaining writing style. Give him a try!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book opened my eyes to things that I'd always wondered about, as well as to new ideas and concepts! I understand myself and those around me so much better than ever before. Sapolsky does an excellent job of writing to the lay person. He puts all of those strange little behaviors into perspective to show you how much of an animal you really are.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
Monkeyluv is a poppy and sarcastic yet still thoughtful and scientific collection of essays on the interaction of biology and environment by the Stanford primatoligist and neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky, compiled from his articles in Discover, The Sciences, Natural History, Men's Health, Natural History, and The New Yorker. Part one, "Genes and Who We Are" opens by reframing the common nature versus nurture debate by playfully quoting from People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" issue, pointing out that, while most people oversimplify and point to either genes or beauty regiments, diets, and workouts being exclusively responsible for outcomes, it is truly "a genetic influence on how one interacts with the environment" at play.

In "A Gene For Nothing," Sapolsky uses the famous uproar over Dolly, the first cloned sheep, to assuage our fears about cloning. Relax, he implores. Cloning is not "playing God." The process does not create literal copies of Mom or Dad or Abraham Lincoln. Animals with matching genetic code-identical human twins, for example-have brains that are measurably physiologically different from one another. And their behavior isn't coded in genetics because genes do not directly produce behavior. Rather, they produce the potential of a certain range of responses to certain environments.

"Genetic Hyping" carries forth the notion that "genes don't cause behaviors...sometimes they influence them," and, more specifically, "genes influence behavior, environment influences behavior, and genes and environment interact." Sapolsky bemoans how with each new story that enters the mainstream media about some new "wonder gene" that is responsible for something or other dramatic like IQ, scientists rarely move on to test that hypothesis through replication. Even worse, when they do try to replicate the results that initially led to a "splashy publication," and they do not get the same results, they most often tend to try to figure out what was wrong with the new study instead of wondering what was wrong with their hypothesis.

In "The Genetic War Between Men and Women," Sapolsky describes how potentially dangerous genes can change over time by discussing imprinted genes-those genes that only have input from one parent and drive growth. He exemplifies this by painting the battle that occurs in a woman's womb as paternally derived genes cause the placenta to take root and try to suck as many resources as possible from the mother, while maternal counterparts attempt to keep it at bay. At worst, an imbalance in this process can lead to strong cancers.

These imprinted genes show up in other mammals-but polygamous ones. Fruit flies are his primary analogy, as he compares human imprinted genes and their ensuing conflicts to the toxic sperm of males and the ability (or lack thereof) of females to survive that sperm. Curiously, if fruit flies are forced to be monogamous, after 40 generations, sperm toxicity will disappear and the monogamous couples with outbreed their polygamous counterparts. Running with this analogy, he ponders the implications for humans. Even though on the surface we appear to be monogamous, there is much evidence that we are in truth polygamous. So then, if humans were forced to be truly monogamous for a long period of time, would imprinted genes eventually disappear? And would we be safer for it?

"Of Mice and (Hu)Men Genes" gives three more examples of genetic-environmental interaction. First, the case of the genetically "relaxed" mice eggs implanted in genetically "timid" mothers who ended up "timid." This suggested two things: environmental influences may begin before birth and having genes that should make you relaxed don't necessarily make you relaxed. Next, the case of the mice who were given a gene that either helped or hindered a group of neurotransmitters related to intelligence. As expected, the "smart" mice showed signs of improved intelligence and the "dumb" mice showed signs of diminished intelligence. But when the "dumb" mice were placed in a stimulating environment rather than a no-frills laboratory enclosure, their intelligence corrected. Finally, Sapolsky cites a study of New Zealander children that found a correlation between one of two types of certain gene called 5-HTT and clinical depression. The study did not find that one type of the gene directly caused depression-of course Sapolsky wants us to know better than that by this point. Nor did the study determine that one type of 5-HTT caused an rise in risk for depression. What they did observe was that having one type of 5-HTT dramatically increased your risk for depression in certain environments, namely those of extreme stress or trauma. Sapolsky concludes with a social plea: let's be mindful of the environments we create. Let's make them ones that unfold harmoniously with genetic potentials.

The final essay in part one of Monkeyluv, "Antlers of Clay," wonders whether or not attractive physical features indicate anything about a potential mate's genetic fitness. After raising some evidence supporting both sides of the argument, Sapolsky begins detailing some fascinating possibilities. Reproducing with an "attractive" mate may perpetuate the species because if, on some level, a female sees that other females find a certain feature attractive, even if she isn't attracted to it, it would be wise of her to mate with one of those males. Why? Because chances are her male offspring will have that trait, the next generation of females will be attracted to it, and he is quite likely to reproduce.

Even more consciousness-bending, what if attractiveness is simply mere evolutionary trickery? Multiple studies have shown that females who have mated with the more attractive male of their species generally take better care of their offspring. So regardless of whether these children actually have "better" genes-and studies have shown varied outcomes-maybe genes in a sense don't matter at all. After all, if you mated with some ultimate cliché of human attractiveness-perhaps the rocket scientist who is a supermodel on the side-wouldn't you invest as much care as you could in raising your children to ensure that they grow up to realize all of the potential harnessed these perceived superbabies? And given what we've learned about genes as potential that is triggered by environment, wouldn't that level of parental care be one of the surest insurers of survival and reproduction?
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