The biology of humans at our best and worst

By Robert Sapolsky

Human Behaviour, Evolutionary Science/Psychology, Non-Fiction


Published by Vintage/The Bodley Head

Longlist 2018

A groundbreaking synthesis of the entire science of human behaviour by “one of the best scientist-writers of our time” (Oliver Sacks).

Why do we do what we do? ‘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 fetal 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.

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