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The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction Paperback – January 28, 2014
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"Combine a first-class neuroscientist like Young, director of Emory University’s Center for Translational Social Neuroscience, and an award-winning science journalist like Alexander, and the result is likely to be an engaging book about cutting edge science. They do a wonderful job of mixing and matching human studies with those of other animals to explain how chemicals influence and, at times, control behavior associated with sex, love, and longing."
"Why do we drunk-dial our exes? Why do strippers make more money when they are ovulating? Why do fools fall in love? These are some of the questions explored by Young (Psychiatry/Emory Univ.) and Alexander (America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction, 2008). The authors argue that the causes are related to the potent, sometimes irresistible, chemical cocktails our bodies produce. In interviews with scientists of all stripes (psychiatrists, neuroscientists, researchers), Young and Alexander examine their ideas and how they pertain to us, often illuminating their explanations with funny, and sometimes raunchy, anecdotes... the book is sure to hook even casual science readers with its subject, because, as Young and Alexander point out, “the combination of erotic desire and the love it leads to may be the most powerful force on earth. An entertaining overview of the science of physical attraction."—Kirkus Reviews
“This lively book by a great neuroscientist and a savvy writer is the first popular account to tie together what we have learned about the chemistry of sex, love, and family bonds. Progress in this field has been nothing short of breathtaking, and Larry Young is recognized as its leading pioneer. The way our brains react when boy meets girl determines the stability of marriage and the future of the human family.”
—FRANS DE WAAL, C.H. Candler Professor of Psychology at Emory University and author of The Age of Empathy
“…One wild and entertaining ride. The prose in The Chemistry Between Us is lively and fun – and provides a fresh and unapologetically pointed analysis on what understanding the neurobiological correlates of love may mean for both our relationships and our culture.”
—Kayt Sukel, New Scientist
“If you’ve ever been curious—and let’s face it, we all have—about the intricate dance of biology and behavior that both brings men and women together and pushes them apart, then The Chemistry Between Us is the book for you. Authors Larry Young and Brian Alexander explore questions as gentle as parenting and as edgy as sexual addiction with consistent style, humor, and insight. The result is a story that’s fun, fascinating, and, finally, insightful.”
—DEBORAH BLUM, Pulitzer Prize winner; author of Sex on the Brain, Love at Goon Park, and The Poisoner’s Handbook
“Nothing fascinates us more than why we fall in love and what makes us choose that particular person. The Chemistry Between Us sheds light on just this mysterious phenomenon with a thorough look at the neuroscience and psychology of the process. Whether you have a desire for better intellectual understanding or a personal curiosity as to why you or your partner do what you do, this book is a super-enjoyable class in love, sex, and all its dark mysteries. A fascinating and stimulating read!”
—GAIL SALTZ, MD, NBC Today show contributor and clinical associate professor of psychiatry, New York-Presbyterian Hospital
“Dr. Young is one of the science world’s most respected authorities on the chemistry underlying the most complicated and beloved interactions of our species. The insight and candor he and Mr. Alexander provide in this simultaneously entertaining and compelling book will impress both novice and scientific aficionado alike. What an intellectually and emotionally satisfying exploration!”
—MAYIM BIALIK, PhD, CLEC, actress on CBS’s The Big Bang Theory and author of Beyond the Sling
“You may not need this book in order to meet the love of your life but if you are head over heels in love with someone this book will go a long way toward telling you what has happened in your head and body to make this so.”
—ARTHUR CAPLAN, PhD, William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty professor and head of the Division of Bioethics, NYU Langone Medical Center
About the Author
Larry Young, PhD, is the director of the Center for Translational Social Neuroscience, the William P. Timmie Professor of Psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine, and chief of the Division of Behavioral Neuroscience and Psychiatric Disorders at Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He lives in Atlanta.
Brian Alexander is an award-winning journalist and the author of several books, including Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion andAmerica Unzipped: The Search for Sex and Satisfaction. He lives in San Diego.
Top customer reviews
The main argument: Love and sex play a central role in the human drama. But when we talk about the emotions and decisions that we make in connection with them, we tend to remain strictly at the macro level, referring to people, and relationships, and our freely made choices. However, in their new book The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex and the Science of Attraction social neuroscientist Larry Young and journalist Brian Alexander contend that our biology and chemistry play a much bigger role in love and sex than most of us ever acknowledge (since Larry Young is the scientist behind the book [and responsible for the ideas therein], I will refer to him as the main author throughout). Young explores everything from gender identity (and sexual orientation), to romantic relationships (and parenting), to monogamy (and adultery), taking us inside our bodies to investigate the genes and hormones that influence our approach to love, sex and relationships. While the focus here is on us humans, the evidence comes not only from our own species but from a host of other animals that exhibit similar biology and behavior.
Young begins by way of smashing the notions that gender identity is constructed by culture, and that sexual orientation is a matter of choice. The foundations of these phenomena, the author argues, are laid down in utero by the specific hormones that wash over the fetus as it develops. Interestingly, we learn that the genes and hormones that are responsible for genital development are active at a different time than those that are responsible for gender-specific behavior, thus explaining how the two can become separated from each other.
While the foundations of gender and sexual orientation may be laid down in utero, it is also the case that they are capable of being influenced to a degree by learning and culture, thus explaining cross-cultural differences in the manifestation of gender, as well as such phenomenon as fetishes.
When it comes to a woman's gender identity, Young explores the hormones that explain maternal behavior, and why women differ in regard to just how maternal they are-as well as what effect this has on their children. Interestingly, we also learn that a woman's love for a man appears to have been built on the same brain mechanisms responsible for her maternal behavior. This fact helps explain a number of baffling phenomena (including, incredibly, the size of women's breasts, and men's penises!).
While men are capable of experiencing romantic love just as strongly as women (if not more so), we learn that a man's love is built on an entirely different biological mechanism. Specifically, a man's love is built on the ancient mechanism responsible for territoriality. This helps explain such phenomenon as male possessiveness and jealousy; but it also helps explain why men are more paternal than the males of most other species.
While love may have a different biological basis in men and women, it takes on a strikingly similar form in both. In short, it is an addiction-not at all unlike a drug addiction. Indeed, like a drug addiction, a romantic relationship starts out as a high, then morphs into an experience whereby the lover cannot stand to be away from their love, and experiences deep stress when this occurs. Even the brain chemistry of using drugs, and the way the brain changes as a drug user becomes addicted, is the same as occurs in the progression of a romantic relationship.
While men and women in love may be addicted to one another, this does not mean they are incapable of cheating on one another. And, indeed, the prevalence of adultery in all times and places (despite the near ubiquity of social mores opposed to the practice) indicate that it is a deep part of our biology. Young explores this biology, and also why some people are more disposed to the practice than others.
As we might well expect from a book co-written by a scientist and a journalist, the work delves deep into the technicalities of the science that is discussed, while at the same time mixing in a large measure of anecdotes and humor. The result is a book that is scientifically sound, while at the same time being highly readable and entertaining. On the negative side, while the authors do touch on the evolutionary reasons behind the phenomenon and biological mechanisms that are discussed, a more thorough exploration of this would have added greatly to our understanding of the subject matter. A full summary of the book is be available here: An Executive Summary of Larry Young and Brian Alexander's 'The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction'
For the most part, this was all riveting stuff. If you've read more than a few biology books, some sections will seem a little repetitive - you can start predicting what the human experiments will be like (and their results) while you're still reading about slugs or voles, but I think the approach was necessary to show to what extent the animal experiments map over to human experience, with our rather more complex brains.
For me, the biggest irony of the book was in the last chapter, where the authors claim that science can't answer the 'big questions' - that those are better left to religion and philosophy. It's ironic because the book just finished giving a better answer to one of the biggest questions of all - 'what is love?' - than any religion or philosophy I've encountered. It seemed like a bone thrown to a largely religious audience in an attempt to make their findings more palatable. Why do I think the authors were insincere here? It might have to do with their flippant analogy of the child who endlessly asks 'why?' and the speed at which the parent collapses into an answer like 'Because that's God's plan' or 'Let's go watch Sponge Bob!'.
Despite these minor quibbles, I found the book delightful and informative and recommend it to anyone getting started in a scientific study of human sexuality. (Also good, with surprisingly little overlap in the studies covered: Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation.)