The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Book - 2017
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Why do we do the things we do? Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky attempts to answer that question as fully as possible, looking at it from every angle. Sapolsky starts by examining the factors that bear on a person's reaction in the precise moment a behavior occurs, and then hops back in time from there, in stages, ultimately ending up at the deep history of our species and its evolutionary legacy. The first category of explanation is the neurobiological one. A behavior occurs -- whether an example of humans at our best, worst, or somewhere in between. What went on in a person's brain a second before the behavior happened? Then Sapolsky pulls out to a slightly larger field of vision, a little earlier in time: What sight, sound, or smell caused the nervous system to produce that behavior? And then, what hormones acted hours to days earlier to change how responsive that individual is to the stimuli that triggered the nervous system? By now he has increased our field of vision so that we are thinking about neurobiology and the sensory world of our environment and endocrinology in trying to explain what happened. Sapolsky keeps going: How was that behavior influenced by structural changes in the nervous system over the preceding months, by that person's adolescence, childhood, fetal life, and then back to his or her genetic makeup? Finally, he expands the view to encompass factors larger than one individual. How did culture shape that individual's group, what ecological factors millennia old formed that culture? And on and on, back to evolutionary factors millions of years old.
Publisher: New York, New York :, Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC,, 2017
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9781594205071
Characteristics: 790 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm


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List - Best of 2017
RCPL_Librarians Nov 26, 2017


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Apr 25, 2018

The revelations about human behaviour in this book are nothing short of astonishing. And while the book is long and not an easy read, the author (an insightful neuroendocrinologist with wide ranging interests) has a gift for making the information easy to understand and an enjoyable reading experience. Genes are important, but how they are expressed is strongly shaped by the environment. The brain is plastic. Brains and cultures influence each other. The adolescent brain is not fully formed and has evolved to be maximally shaped by experience. We are wired to identify Us vs. Them. And so much more. Everything is backed up with scientific studies and data, and where something is inconclusive the author says so. The Washington Post rated this as one of its top 10 books of 2017.

Feb 02, 2018

Reads like a novel . Lot of information , more detailed than Sapiens but nonetheless wonderful classifications and astute observations

Nov 07, 2017

This may not be for the average reader. Very, very detailed, specialized information.

Sep 15, 2017

I read a lot of science books. This is the best science book I've read in years!

Jul 13, 2017

An eye-opener on how complex we are. It was interesting to see all the research that has been done to help understand our species. Although this is a very complex subject, I appreciated how the author would work in a little humor along the way. Not light reading, but very rewarding.


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