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Behave is at once a dazzling tour and a majestic synthesis of the whole science of human behaviour. Brought to life through simple language, engaging stories and irreverent wit, it offers the fullest picture yet of the origins of tribalism and xenophobia, hierarchy and competition, morality and free will, war and peace.
Robert Sapolsky's ingenious method is to move backwards in time from the moment at which a behaviour occurs, layer by layer through the myriad influences that led to it:
- We begin with the split-second reactions of the brain and nervous system…
- Then we consider our response to sight, sound and smell in the minutes and seconds beforehand…
- Next, he explains the interactions of hormones, which prime our behaviour in the preceding hours and days…
- He proceeds through the experiences of adolescence, childhood and foetal development that shape us over our lifespans…
- And continues over centuries and millennia through the profound influences of genetic inheritance, cultural context and ultimately the evolutionary origins of our species.
Throughout, Sapolsky considers the most important question: what causes acts of aggression or compassion? What inspires us to terrible deeds and what might help foster our best behaviour? Wise, humane, often very funny, Behave is a towering achievement, powerfully humanising, that is unlikely to be surpassed for many years.
Robert M. Sapolsky holds degrees from Harvard and Rockefeller Universities and is currently a Professor of Biology and Neurology at Stanford University and a Research Associate with the Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya. He is the author of The Trouble with Testosterone, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers (both finalists for the LA Times Book Award), and A Primate's Memoir. Sapolsky has contributed to Natural History, Discover, Men's Health, and Scientific American, and is a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant.
"[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."
– Booklist (starred review)
"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
"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
"A ground-breaking synthesis of the entire science of human behaviour by 'one of the best scientist-writers of our time"
– Oliver Sacks