Behave: The Science of Humans at our Best and Worst

Behave: The Science of Humans at our Best and Worst



The Pequod Review:

Robert Sapolsky's Behave shows how little we know about the causes of human behavior — with any certainty anyway — as he synthesizes the most recent scientific research on the various ways we are impacted by biology, neurology, hormones and the environment. His conclusion is representative of the uncertain tone that pervades the entire book:

If you had to boil this book down to a single phrase, it would be “It’s complicated.” Nothing seems to cause anything; instead everything just modulates something else. Scientists keep saying, “We used to think X, but now we realize that…” Fixing one thing often messes up ten more, as the law of unintended consequences reigns. On any big, important issue it seems like 51 percent of the scientific studies conclude one thing, and 49 percent conclude the opposite. And so on. Eventually it can seem hopeless that you can actually fix something, can make things better. But we have no choice but to try. And if you are reading this, you are probably ideally suited to do so. You’ve amply proven you have intellectual tenacity. You probably also have running water, a home, adequate calories, and low odds of festering with a bad parasitic disease. You probably don’t have to worry about Ebola virus, warlords, or being invisible in your world. And you’ve been educated. In other words, you’re one of the lucky humans. So try.

Despite the lack of pithy or clear-cut arguments, Sapolsky charts a consistently informative path along the way. And his epilogue nicely summarizes several of the key insights from the book.