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John Muir's lifelong passion to save America's wild places, Wilson Bentley's legendary obsession to record for posterity the beauty of individual snowflakes, the boundless scientific curiosity behind Watson and Crick's discovery of DNA, sea lions that surf and porcupines that dance - Kay Redfield Jamison shows how these and many more examples both human and animal define the nature of exuberance, and how this exuberance relates to intellectual searching, risk-taking, creativity, and survival itself.
She examines the hereditary predisposition to exuberance; the role of the brain chemical dopamine; the connection between positive moods and psychological resilience; and the differences between exuberance and mania. She delves into some of the phenomena of exuberance - the contagiousness of laughter, the giddiness of new love, and the intoxicating effects of music and of religious ecstasy - while also addressing the dangerous desire to simulate exuberance by using drugs or alcohol. In a fascinating and intimate coda to the rest of the book, renowned scientists, writers, and politicians share their thoughts on the forms and role of exuberance in their own lives.