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Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst Paperback – Illustrated, May 1, 2018
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"Sapolsky has created an immensely readable, often hilarious romp through the multiple worlds of psychology, primatology, sociology and neurobiology to explain why we behave the way we do. It is hands-down one of the best books I’ve read in years. I loved it."— Dina Temple-Raston, The Washington Post
“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
“A quirky, opinionated and magisterial synthesis of psychology and neurobiology that integrates this complex subject more accessibly and completely than ever…. a wild and mind-opening ride into a better understanding of just where our behavior comes from. Darwin would have been thrilled.” —Richard Wrangham, The New York Times Book Review
“[Sapolskly’s] new book is his magnum opus, but is also strikingly different from his earlier work, veering sharply toward hard science as it looms myriad strands of his ruminations on human behavior. The familiar, enchanting Sapolsky tropes are here—his warm, witty voice, a sleight of hand that unfolds the mysteries of cognition—but Behave keeps the bar high. . . . A stunning achievement and an invaluable addition to the canon of scientific literature, certain to kindle debate for years to come.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A masterly cross-disciplinary scientific study of human behavior: What in our glands, our genes, our childhoods explains our species’ capacity for both altruism and brutality? This comprehensive and friendly survey of a ‘big sprawling mess of a subject’ is leavened by an impressive data-to-silly joke ratio. It has my vote for science book of the year.” —Parul Sehgal, New York Times
“A monumental contribution to the scientific understanding of human behavior that belongs on every bookshelf and many a course syllabus . . . It is a magnificent culmination of integrative thinking, on par with similar authoritative works, such as Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature.” —Michael Shermer, American Scholar
“Behave is the best detective story ever written, and the most important. If you've ever wondered why someone did something—good or bad, vicious or generous—you need to read this book. If you think you already know why people behave as they do, you need to read this book. In other words, everybody needs to read it. It should be available on prescription (side effects: chronic laughter; highly addictive). They should put Behave in hotel rooms instead of the Bible: the world would be a much better, wiser place” —Kate Fox, author of Watching the English
“Magisterial . . . This extraordinary survey of the science of human behaviour takes the reader on an epic journey . . . Sapolsky makes the book consistently entertaining, with an infectious excitement at the puzzles he explains . . . a miraculous synthesis of scholarly domains.” —Steven Poole, The Guardian
Rarely does an almost 800-page book keep my attention from start to finish, but
“If anyone can save evolutionary biology from TED talkers and pop-science fabulists, it might be Sapolsky…. Behave ranges at great length from moral philosophy to social science, genetics to Sapolsky’s home turf of neurons and hormones—but all of it is aimed squarely at the question of why humans are so awful to each other, and whether the condition is terminal.” —Vulture
“Robert Sapolsky's students must love him. In Behave, the primatologist, neurologist and science communicator writes like a teacher: witty, erudite and passionate about clear communication. You feel like a lucky auditor in a fast-paced undergraduate course, where the implications of fascinating scientific findings are illuminated through topical stories and pop-culture allusions.” —Nature
“Sapolsky’s book shows in exquisite detail how culture, context and learning shape everything our genes, brains, hormones and neurons do.” —Times Literary Supplement
“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
“Truly all-encompassing . . . detailed, accessible, fascinating.” —The Telegraph
“A wide-ranging, learned survey of all the making-us-tick things that, for better or worse, define us as human…. An exemplary work of popular science, challenging but accessible.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred
“[Sapolsky] weaves science storytelling with humor….[His] 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)
“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.”
“Read Robert Sapolsky’s marvelous book Behave and you’ll never again be surprised by the range and depth of our own bad behavior. We all carry the potential for unconscious biases, to be damaged by our childhoods and map that damage onto our own loved ones, and to form the tribal ‘Us’ groups that treat outsiders as lesser ‘Thems.’ But to read this book is also, marvelously, to be given the hope that we have much more control of those behaviors than we think. And Behave gives us more than hope—it gives us the knowledge of how to act on that aspiration, to manifest more of our best selves and less of our worst, individually and as a society. That’s very good news indeed.” —Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better
"As wide as it is deep, this book is colorful, electrifying, and moving. Sapolsky leverages his deep expertise to ask the most fundamental questions about being human--from acts of hate to acts of love, from our compulsion to dehumanize to our capacity to rehumanize." —David Eagleman, PhD, neuroscientist at Stanford, author, presenter of PBS's The Brain
"Behave is a beautifully crafted work about the biology of morality. Sapolsky makes multiple passes at the target, using different time scales and systems. He shows you how all the perspectives and systems connect, and he makes you laugh and marvel along the way. Sapolsky is not just a leading primatologist; he’s a great writer and a superb guide to human nature." —Jonathan Haidt, New York University, author of The Righteous Mind
“This is a miraculous book, by far the best treatment of violence, aggression, and competition ever. It ranges from how neurons and hormones interact, how emotions are an essential part of decision making, why adolescents are more likely to be violent than adults, why genes influence cultures and vice-versa, and the ins and outs of “we versus them,” all the way to “live and let live” truces in World War I and the My Lai massacre. Its depth and breadth of scholarship are amazing, building on Sapolsky’s own research and his vast knowledge of the neurobiology, genetic, and behavioral literature. For instance, Behave includes fair evaluations of complex debates (like over sociobiology) that I was involved in, and tackles controversial questions such as whether our hunter-gatherer ancestors warred on each other. 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, author of Human Natures
About the Author
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Illustrated edition (May 1, 2018)
- Language: : English
- Paperback : 800 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0143110918
- ISBN-13 : 978-0143110910
- Item Weight : 1.45 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.45 x 1.6 x 8.4 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The book is about "us" and "them," and how our biology has modeled us to to replicate and to live this duality as an inexorable destiny. That's the reason why Sapolsky in a very smart design of the book dedicates the thirteen first (out of seventeen) chapters in describing to you how does our brains (and by extension our biology) to produce a human being with all that it means. And it means a lot. More than I can say here. Thus, the first thirteen chapters of the book leave you with the sensation that we are all design to be just the way we are. So nothing to be much optimistic here.
There's (for me at least) a tipping point in the book that synthesizes everything. It is in page 448 and shows you a graph that plots the "proportion of rulings in favor of the prisoners by ordinal position [i.e., the order in which they were heard by the judge]," with "points [indicating] the first decision in each of the three decisions sessions." Well, the thing is that "in a study of more than 1,100 judicial rulings, prisoners were granted parole at about a 60 percent rate when judges had recently eaten, and at essentially a 0 percent rate just before judges ate... Justice may be blind, but she's sure sensitive to her stomach gurgling."
Well, there you are. And this is just one example, there are dozens before and after indicating how sensible we are to the environment, the internal and the external one, something that Sapolsky summarize at the end of the book: "...we haven't evolved to be "selfish" or "altruistic" or anything else--we've evolved to be particular ways in particular settings. Context, context, context."
As long as you read you think that the book was written to let you know how remarkably open AND close is our nature, in such a way that we are condemned to suffer our tremendous limitations: there is no way out (or in). Yes, as Sapolsky says, it's complicated. In fact, that could have been the title of the book. But that would have lessened the final chapters which are like the cracks in the wall through which a silver lining filters. The thing is that you didn't expect what Sapolsky tells you there.
This is not a detectives novel so what's the point in not commenting what's there for everyone of us? Well, I guess that the point is I shouldn't deprive you of discovering by yourself as I did. Yes, I'm talking here of the pleasure that renders the experience of something that sounds (even in a scientific manner) like a revelation. And that is: at the end of the book you see...
I'm sure that other reviewers have revealed everything in order to criticize some points here and there. I guess that could be several, but to me that's not the point. The point is that Behave has not been written to convince you, not at all. Behave has been written to show you. Behave is not a book is a window as I suppose any great book is.
As I said, I'm Chilean and here, in my country, are hundreds of political prisoners that haven't the minimal chance of being paroled. Not even that light ray that could traverse a crack in a wall. Not even that. They have no chance. Unfortunately this book is not going to be translated to Spanish. And if it is, it's not going to arrive to our commercial and poor (intellectually speaking) bookstores. My country is a very quiet one compared with the rest of the world. Nobody even notice it, so quiet it is. We are like Switzerland bur without the money. And with the political prisoners they don't have.
Sapolsky it's not going to change nothing, but that's not the point, I insist: the point is that things are going to change anyway because history tells so. The thing is that we could do something to hurry the future. I don't know how. Sapolsky either. And what about you?
Read this book if you are interested into thinking how does it feel not to be the good guy you think you are most of the time. In a sentence: how does it feel to be human.
And it feels good.
Five highly deserved stars.
Two stars instead of one for indeed a good description of basic neuroanatomy and endocrinology.
For me a difficult read. Lots of unfamiliar terms and territory. The wonderful jokes and anecdotes greatly lightened the load. Their inclusion in uber-small type was a disappointment.
The basic message is "it depends." Nature , nurture, early childhood experience (including abuse), and peer pressure all have an impact on behavior. There is no "silver bullet" that explains individual behavior.
This is a scholarly work. The pop culture rewrite probably would run 200 pages without the plumbing and wiring diagrams. The frequent recaps and summaries help keep on on track.
A final irony. We are told that the human brain doesn't reach maturity until the mid-twenties. Many of the cited studies were carried out with students as subjects. Are we studying immature brains?
Top reviews from other countries
Robert Sapolsky invokes interest and curiosity right from the start - talking about how we are very conflicted in our beliefs – especially we condone many acts of violence, but do support others. I have to admit I have many conflicts I am unable to resolve myself – such as the fact that I find very impressive the progress that science has made as detailed in this book, and yet I am very pained that much of this has come with cruel experiments on animals.
The organisation of the book is very logical – it traces an action from when it happens, to moments before, months/years before and potentially several years earlier in cases. Experiments show that there are several markers in our brain which light up, before we take any action. So the big question (which the book Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari explores as well) – do we really have free will? Do we have the ability to stop when the natural instinct kicks in? As it turns out, much of how we act is a result of a multitude of factors – events which have happened at any time previously - sometimes well in the past, our genes, environment, and many others, some of it still to be determined. This has extremely important implications for law enforcement as well.
There are excellent examples: eg: when you compliment a child on good work, telling them they are clever vs telling them they are hardworking invokes very different responses. While we appreciate empathy – the ability to step into and feel the others experience, empathy stalls action. Compassion is more effective. The discussion around how the brain responds to meditation are alluded to – though I think it deserved far more coverage. There are also other interesting lessons around how judges and juries decide punishment based on a number of factors which logic says should have no bearing.
The issues of “Us” vs “Them” is discussed in detail, and deservedly so. Our brain instantly associates some faces as “Us” and some others as “Them”. We develop this categorisation over time and this association is very strong in adulthood and near impossible to get over. While this is true even in animals, our behaviours are more complex. The “Us” categorisation could be based on country, language, religion, colour, and others. The natural tendency is to think in terms of aggregate labels rather than as individuals, accounting for much of our biases.
This is a big book, and one for which I should have taken notes. But I did not. Since there is a wealth of important information, I expect I will have to revisit the book again – when I feel I am forgetting its contents.
The Appendix has information on Brain / Genes / Hormones which is worth taking a look at. This is an exceptional book, though certainly not light reading. Since it packs great amount of detail, it is a more difficult read than for instance “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari. However, I very strongly recommend this – for reading at the earliest possible
WIth a better editor this could have been an excellent book. For example, someone really should have picked up on this paragraph: "The authors deconstructed high rank with three questions: (a) How many people ranked lower than the subject in his organization? (b) How much autonomy did he have (e.g., to hire and fire)? (c) How many people did he directly supervise? And high rank came with low glucocorticoids and anxiety only insofar as the position was about the first two variables—lots of subordinates, lots of authority. In contrast, having to directly supervise lots of subordinates did not predict those good outcomes."
I'm pretty sure that should say "lots of autonomy, lots of authority". As it is, it states that lots of subordinates are both good and, "in contrast" bad. There are several errors like this, and they can be quite confusing.
of footnotes, "notes". Three apendixes : Neurosciences "101" neurotrasmitters; The basics of endocrinology, Hormones, and Protein Basics, all to help you understand better.
Don't be scared off! I was a music/education and foreign language major.
And Believe it or not, it's become a bestseller.
Drawbacks for many: Extremelly small print; footnotes impossibly tiny, difficult to read.