A Next Big Idea Club Must-Read Nonfiction Book of Winter 2020
A revelatory investigation of friendship, with profound implications for our understanding of what humans and animals alike need to thrive across a lifetime.
The phenomenon of friendship is universal and elemental. Friends, after all, are the family we choose. But what makes these bonds not just pleasant but essential, and how do they affect our bodies and our minds?
In Friendship, science journalist Lydia Denworth takes us in search of friendship’s biological, psychological, and evolutionary foundations. She finds friendship to be as old as early life on the African savannas—when tribes of people grew large enough for individuals to seek fulfillment of their social needs outside their immediate families. Denworth sees this urge to connect reflected in primates, too, taking us to a monkey sanctuary in Puerto Rico and a baboon colony in Kenya to examine social bonds that offer insight into our own. She meets scientists at the frontiers of brain and genetics research and discovers that friendship is reflected in our brain waves, our genomes, and our cardiovascular and immune systems; its opposite, loneliness, can kill. At long last, social connection is recognized as critical to wellness and longevity.
With insight and warmth, Denworth weaves past and present, field biology and neuroscience, to show how our bodies and minds are designed for friendship across life stages, the processes by which healthy social bonds are developed and maintained, and how friendship is changing in the age of social media. Blending compelling science, storytelling, and a grand evolutionary perspective, Denworth delineates the essential role that cooperation and companionship play in creating human (and nonhuman) societies.
Friendship illuminates the vital aspects of friendship, both visible and invisible, and offers a refreshingly optimistic vision of human nature. It is a clarion call for putting positive relationships at the center of our lives.
Science writer Denworth takes a broad look at the origins and functions of friendship in her intriguing debut. Her focus ranges from animal behavior to neurobiology and from sociology to psychology and physiology. After speaking with many leading researchers, Denworth draws several striking conclusions notably that, having been found in an extensive variety of species, friendship has deep evolutionary roots. This helps explain the large panoply of positive health benefits associated with friendship and, inversely, the dire medical consequences she reports as sometimes arising from loneliness. Denworth also examines the impact of virtual relationships and the increased use of technology by different generations, concluding that research demonstrates no net benefit or harm from social media use: "Friendship, real friendship, hasn't changed much. It is alive and well, even thriving." Her reporting is peppered with personal asides about how she and her family members have navigated various relationships. While this enlivens her work's more technical facets, it does potentially give the impression of putting anecdotal experiences on a par with evidence-based studies, thus undercutting the importance of the latter. Science enthusiasts may find Denworth's survey wider than it is deep, but it does provide an effective introduction to its subject.
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Be a better friend—it will literally makes you feel better!
This book is a must read! Both beautifully written and engaging, it makes a compelling case for why friends are critical to all aspects of our physical and emotional life. While this is a "science" and not a self-help book, it is one that, if you take its message to heart, will change your life in important and positive ways. Weaving personal stories together with a clear and interesting explanation of the science of friendship, the book is a pleasure to read. Given how important and timely this subject is, it is no surprise that it was named one of 6 must-read nonfiction books for Winter 2020 by the Next Big Idea Club (a.k.a. Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant, Susan Cain and Dan Pink). Read this book, hug your friends and commit to being a better friend going forward--it will literally make you feel better.