SCIENCES

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Penguin. May 2017. 800p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781594205071. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780735222786. SCI
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OrangeReviewStarSapolsky (biology, neurology & neurological sciences, & neurosurgery, Stanford Univ.; A Primate's Memoir) takes a far-reaching look at the biological underpinnings of violence and related human behaviors and their antitheses such as altruism and compassion. Sapolsky examines individual acts of harm or help, starting on the level of neurobiology the moment the event occurs. He then takes a step back, focusing on the preceding minutes, days, and lifetime to explore the role of hormones, genes, memories, upbringing, environment, genes, culture, and evolution. When sociobiology and psychology are so intertwined and multifactorial, the effects are nuanced and context dependent. Each piece presents a partial explanation, with no bit of biology offering complete causality. The latter chapters then consider practical implications as applied in the realms of morality, criminal justice, politics, and war and peace. The author does an excellent job of bringing together the expansive literature of thousands of fascinating studies with clarity and humor, though some readers may choose to skim the extensive discussions of brain regions. Appendixes give primers on neuroscience, endocrinology, and proteins that provide background for some of the early chapters.
VERDICT A tour-de-force survey of what is known about why we behave the way we do, for students of human interaction in any discipline. [Prepub Alert, 11/21/16.]
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