cover image Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Robert M. Sapolsky. Penguin Press, $35 (800p) ISBN 978-1-59420-507-1

Sapolsky (Monkeyluv), professor of biology at Stanford, looks at human behavior from myriad interrelated perspectives, endeavoring to explain humans’ strange and often contradictory behavior. He predominantly focuses on exploring “the biology of violence, aggression, and competition” through the lenses of neuroscience, anthropology, psychology, genetics, evolutionary biology, political science, and communication theory. Sapolsky takes complex ideas from the scientific literature, including his own research, and attempts to balance the pros and cons of every conclusion. He weaves science storytelling with humor to keep readers engaged while advancing his main point about the complexity and interconnectedness of all aspects of behavior. For Sapolsky, context is everything. For example, in discussing genetics he urges readers to “repeat the mantra: don’t ask what a gene does; ask what it does in a particular context.” Understanding such complexity can potentially lead toward a more just and peaceful society, Sapolsky says. He recognizes that this ambition may “seem hopeless” but argues that it is essential. Finally, he contends and demonstrates that “you don’t have to choose between being scientific and being compassionate.” Sapolsky’s big ideas deserve a wide audience and will likely shape thinking for some time. Agent: Katinka Matson, Brockman Inc. (May)