We have all thought about it: Why do we behave how we behave and which factors have affected us so drastically yet so imperceptibly that when we do the most involuntary of things, they can still be traced back to a particular motivation? This exciting science of understanding behavior, character, and motivations is well documented in this exciting book by Robert Sapolsky. This 2017 non-fiction novel has been hailed as one of the most daring, investigates human behavior carefully summed up into a single book. Interestingly, this book provides insurmountable insights to a professor of neuroscience as well as to a novice who just wants to know the basic understanding of behavior. So, what exciting insights exist in this book, and why do some Wall Street Journal reviewers say ”It’s no exaggeration to say that Behave is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read”?
For starters, the book is written by a celebrated neurobiologist and primatologist. Robert Sapolsky has taken his time to research on this field of study extensively. This book is a landmark, world-changing look into human behavior on both ends of the spectrum both good and bad, and everything in between. In simple terms, Sapolsky seeks to simply answer the question: Why do we do what we do?
One interesting aspect is Sapolsky’s mode of storytelling. His premise is quite delightful mixing severe and scientific logic with warm and hearty storytelling. He begins by examining everything that affects a person’s reaction in the exact moment a certain behavior occurs, and then reversely goes back, through several stages, to the genesis of this particular involuntary reaction to a certain thing which inadvertently forms human behavior. In the long run, Sapolsky ultimately ends up at the very beginning, through our deep evolutionary legacy and the history of the human species.
Therefore, the writer starts his explanation of human biology through neurobiology. When a behavior occurs; a positive reaction, a negative reaction, or anything in between is visible to the human eye. Is there something that, however, went on in a person’s brain just a second before the behavior occurred? Then Sapolsky also examines that slightly beforehand, something happened that must have influenced that reaction and behavior. Maybe a smell, sight, or even sound, caused the nervous system to produce that behavior. Also, some biological triggers such as hormones could have acted hours to days earlier to influence the response that occurred because of that stimuli. As it stands now, as you read the book, the author has greatly expanded your scope of vision making us think broader about endocrinology, neurobiology, and the impact of our environment on our most involuntary behaviors.
But that is not all, the author further takes us deeper to understand behavior. Did preceding structural changes in the nervous system affect the behavior? Changes such as physical trauma, adolescence, or childhood? And what about genetic make-up and structure? Finally, Sapolsky brings into focus events beyond the individual such as society and culture. What ecological factors influenced the formation of that culture? Finally, what evolutionary factors, which might be millions of years old, influenced certain cultural tendencies and behaviors?
When it’s all said and done, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst is one of the best rides through human psychology that anyone can ever take. The author uses scientific research with proven methodologies to try and dissect one of the scariest questions of human existence: Why do we behave how we behave? And in this, we are forced to deal with some of society’s most crucial yet thorny subjects including morality, free will, war, peace, corruption, discrimination, democracy, and a host of other issues.