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Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
From the man who Oliver Sacks hailed as “one of the best scientist/writers of our time,” a collection of sharply observed, uproariously funny essays on the biology of human culture and behavior.
In the tradition of Stephen Jay Gould and Oliver Sacks, Robert Sapolsky offers a sparkling and erudite collection of essays about science, the world, and our relation to both. “The Trouble with Testosterone” explores the influence of that notorious hormone on male aggression. “Curious George’s Pharmacy” reexamines recent exciting claims that wild primates know how to medicate themselves with forest plants. “Junk Food Monkeys” relates the adventures of a troop of baboons who stumble upon a tourist garbage dump. And “Circling the Blanket for God” examines the neurobiological roots underlying religious belief.
Drawing on his career as an evolutionary biologist and neurobiologist, Robert Sapolsky writes about the natural world vividly and insightfully. With candor, humor, and rich observations, these essays marry cutting-edge science with humanity, illuminating the interconnectedness of the world’s inhabitants with skill and flair.
In 17 wide-ranging and witty essays, 11 of which have been previously published in Discover and The Sciences, Stanford biologist Sapolsky (Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers) provides extraordinary insights into the topic of biological determination. How much of our personalities, our behaviors, our quirks, he asks, are a direct outcome of our genes, or the biochemical processes they control, and how much can be attributed to free will? Sapolsky draws fascinating parallels between humans and our close primate relatives and provides abundant details about some of the latest breaking discoveries in neurobiology, always probing the possible infringements on our personal freedom that might arise from our new knowledge. His specific topics include the timing of the onset of menstruation, whether religious rituals stem from obsessive-compulsive behaviors, the parallels between our fascination with the O.J. trial and voyeurism in baboon societies, grave-robbing in the 19th century, as well as many others. They are all fascinating, and Sapolsky packs his treatments of them with wisdom and delightful surprises. Throughout he criticizes poor scientific methodology as well as those who uncritically accept it. Sapolsky's style, cleverness and sensitivity compares favorably to those of Oliver Sachs.