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And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals
In these essays -- updated for this volume -- Robert M. Sapolsky once again applies his curiosity, compassion, and generous insight into the human condition to make a case for the science of behavioral biology that tells us who we are, why we are, and how we are.
The first section, "Genes and Who We Are," addresses the physiology of genes, featuring a dissertation on "The 50 Most Beautiful People in the World" and tackling the vital question: How did they wind up on the list? Another essay explains the invisible genetic warfare that takes place between men and women as they conceive a baby and that continues as the fetus develops. As Sapolsky says, "Warning: this essay does not make pleasant wedding-night reading."
The second section, "Our Bodies and Who We Are," focuses on our physical natures and dwells on such diverse topics as why dreams are in fact dreamlike, why we are sexually attracted to one another, and why Alzheimer's disease tends to be a postmenopausal phenomenon. As Sapolsky writes, "Sometimes, all you need to do is think a thought and you change the functioning of virtually every cell in your body."
In the third section, "Society and Who We Are," Sapolsky takes his interdisciplinary curiosity out into the wilds of civilization and poses such interesting questions as: When and why do our preferences in food become fixed? Why do desert cultures tend to be monotheistic and sexually repressed, whereas rainforest cultures tend to be sexually relaxed and polytheistic? Why do different cultures think differently about dead bodies? "We are shaped by the sort of society in which we live," Sapolsky tells us, "and we would not be the same person if we had grown up elsewhere."
In each of these investigations, we see a brilliant mind synthesizing his and others' research in a thoughtful, engaging, and witty voice that reveals the enormous complexity of simply being human. Charming and erudite in equal measure, this collection will appeal to the inner monkey in all of us.
224 pages; ISBN 9780743274777