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Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals [Paperback]

Robert M. Sapolsky
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 10 2006
How do imperceptibly small differences in the environment change one's behavior? What is the anatomy of a bad mood? Does stress shrink our brains? What does People magazine's list of America's "50 Most Beautiful People" teach us about nature and nurture? What makes one organism sexy to another? What makes one orgasm different from another? Who will be the winner in the genetic war between the sexes?

Welcome to Monkeyluv, a curious and entertaining collection of essays about the human animal in all its fascinating variety, from Robert M. Sapolsky, America's most beloved neurobiologist/primatologist. Organized into three sections, each tackling a Big Question in natural science, Monkeyluv offers a lively exploration of the influence of genes and the environment on behavior; the social and political -- and, of course, sexual -- implications of behavioral biology; and society's shaping of the individual. From the mating rituals of prairie dogs to the practice of religion in the rain forest, the secretion of pheromones to bugs in the brain, Sapolsky brilliantly synthesizes cutting-edge scientific research with wry, erudite observations about the enormous complexity of simply being human. Thoughtful, engaging, and infused with pop-cultural insights, this collection will appeal to the inner monkey in all of us.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. There are many things one might expect to find within the covers of a collection of essays by a Stanford professor of biology and neurology: a rich understanding of the complexities of human and animal life; a sensitivity to the relationship between our biological nature and our environmental context; a humility in the face of still-to-be-understood facets of the human condition. All these are in Sapolsky's new collection, along with something one might not expect: wry, witty prose that reads like the unexpected love child of a merger between Popular Science and GQ, written by an author who could be as much at home holding court at the local pub as he is in a university lab. In this collection (the majority of pieces ran in Discover, others in Men's Health, the New Yorker and Scientific American), Sapolsky ranges wherever his formidable curiosity leads, from genetic determinism as seen through the eyes of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" to the reasons why crotchety old people are neurologically disinclined to like whatever passes for music among young people nowadays. Each essay brings its own unexpected delight, brief enough that you can dip a toe in, yet insightful enough to encourage you to pursue the topic further (and Sapolsky helpfully appends to each essay a list of suggested further readings). (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"A hit . . . Sapolsky lets his obsessive curiosity wander amiably. . . . Most compelling when the animal behavior he is reckoning with is our own." -- The New York Times Book Review

"One of the best scientist-writers of our time." -- Oliver Sacks

"The author [is] a luminary among that rare breed -- the funny scientist." -- Los Angeles Times

"Sapolsky writes in a jocular, entertaining style without ever pandering to the presumed ignorance of his readers." -- The Guardian (London)

"Delightful in a way that science writing rarely is." -- The Denver Post

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Opens many new doors [while closing a few] March 25 2006
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
It's easy to tack the disparaging label "pop science" to this book. That would be misleading and counterproductive. What, after all, is "popular science" but science for non-scientists. From a broader perspective this book is informative, enlightening and ably suited for its intended task. Among other virtues, this book is a well-written account of what too many of us believe is valid science. It then discloses where we are mistaken in that belief and provides corrections. In his vividly rendered chapters, Sapolsky offers numerous challenges to "established" thinking. The challenges are often raw and forceful, but they must be understood fully.
A primate researcher, the author has spent many years studying baboon behaviour. Those who fear comparison with other primates may be uncomfortable with Sapolsky's conclusions. The material he draws upon for support, however, shows how universal many of our own behaviours are among our close relatives. In this book, he takes up three themes - why searching for "a gene for" any specific behaviour or illness is doomed to failure; what the body contributes to our personality; and what society contributes in determining our "selves". Each section is preceded by an introductory essay, explaining the significance of the topics discussed.
In the first section he severely condemns those who want to lock behaviour to genetics. That's an admirable end, but the selections weighed in his judgement are nearly all media accounts. Simplifying human behaviour issues sells magazines and newspapers, and his references to "those scientists" who appear to have advocated "nature over nurture" vapourise when you look for them in the text.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Monkeyluv is great! Jan. 10 2012
Format:Paperback
I really enjoyed reading Monkeyluv. It answers many questions that we may ask ourselves. The delivery time was a bit long but I did get the book in it's new form. So I am very satisfied with my purchase.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  31 reviews
63 of 67 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You dropped your hippocampus Dec 8 2005
By Justin Mclaughlin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Monkeyluv is worth reading for seven reasons. The first (1) is that you will finally understand how genes work. The first third of the book is all about dispelling the nature vs nurture debate. It's their interaction, stupid! Once you get the picture on genes, there are some other really interesting reasons to read this book. Reasons two through seven: (2) the articles are on subjects as vast and interesting as Münchhausen by Proxy (where a mother intentionally makes her child ill, like the Sixth Sense), aging, and brain controlling parasites. (3) All the articles appeared before in general-reader publications, like Discovery Magazine, so a non-scientist can understand the ideas. (4) The author does a superb job of applying his neurobiology lens (biology of human brains) to a variety of interesting topics. (5) The reader can zip through this book over a weekend and pick up some wow-I-didn't-know-thats to impress his or her friends, neighbors, and colleagues. (6) The essays are concise and (7) sprinkled with popular humor, which remain from their magazine days.
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book about your brain and your body in the world Aug. 27 2006
By Stacey M Jones - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I absolutely LOVED this book! I read it very quickly and had trouble putting it down. It is fascinating, educational, funny, enjoyable and well written about complex issues.

Sapolsky, who is the author of A Primate's Memoir, The Trouble with Testosterone and Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford and a recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant. I found his genius not only to be in his insight and ability to frame questions and pursue their answers, but also to be able to write about it in a way that is accessible to a "nongenius."

This book is a collection of previously published essays that are updated for this edition (the updates include notes for further reading and on source materials). Sapolsky divides the book into three parts ("Genes and Who We Are," "Our Bodies and Who We Are" and "Society and Who We Are") and introduces each section with cogent current thinking on the issues addressed. For example, to introduce the first section, Sapolsky writes about how the nature-nurture argument is a red herring; genes contribute to personality/behavior when the environment interacts with them in ways conducive to gene-induced behavior! For example, in "Of Mice and (Hu)men Genes," Sapolsky writes about genes that may indicate a proclivity for depression, but only in certain environments, and summarizes that the reader should be wary of simple expanations. (And, he asserts, as humans we may have more responsibility to create positive environments that interact benignly with risky genes than to understand which genes cause what.) In the second section's "Why are Dreams Dreamlike?" Sapolsky illustrates how answering some questions about how the brain and psyche function just brings up other, deeper questions.

Sapolsky's illustrations of his points are fascinating and enlightening (and often funny!). In "The Genetic War Between Men and Women," he writes about how the genes from the father of a species have one goal ("greater, faster, more expensive growth") while genes from the mother have another ("countering that exuberance"). The success comes in nature's ability to balance these goals: "The placenta is ... the scene of a pitched battle, with paternally derived genes pushing [the placenta] to invade more aggressively while maternally derived genes try to hold it back." He lists other examples of this balance in humans and other species. This view of nature and how reproduction is nurtured fascinated me and helped me to see things in a new way.

Sapolsky's topics are wide ranging, and the book reminded me a bit of Freakonomics in its tendency to turn its problem-solving focus on whatever issue crossed its path. For example, in the final section, he writes about the differences between the

religions of desert peoples and the religions of tropical peoples -- the former tend to have a single god with miltaristic iterations and few rights for women while the latter tend toward pantheism and matrilocal marital residence. "Most evidence suggests that the rain-forest mind-set is more of a hothouse attribute, less hardy when uprooted." I guess that's evident, but Sapolsky's writings on the topic, again, gave me a new way to look at something I hadn't considered before. In this book, he addresses game theory, gene mapping, musical tastes, gender-communication issues and neurogenesis with wit, clarity and insight.

I recommend this book if you're the least bit curious about your brain, your body, the natural world and the society in which you live.
42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you want someone to make you think..... Jan. 9 2006
By Dr. Richard G. Petty - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Like most people, I am inundated with new books and papers that need my attention.

But I always make the time to read anything that Sapolsky writes. This book is a collection of essays that show once again, that we have an extraordinarily brilliant iconoclast in our midst. Time and again he demonstrates that he is not afraid to say when he does not know something, but that he also uncommonly good at coming up with new questions and new solutions.

I suggest reading this at the rate of a chapter a day, and meditating on what you have learned: you will not regret it!

The whole thing is witty, unconventional and brilliant!
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Opens many new doors [while closing a few] March 25 2006
By Stephen A. Haines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It's easy to tack the disparaging label "pop science" to this book. That would be misleading and counterproductive. What, after all, is "popular science" but science for non-scientists. From a broader perspective this book is informative, enlightening and ably suited for its intended task. Among other virtues, this book is a well-written account of what too many of us believe is valid science. It then discloses where we are mistaken in that belief and provides corrections. In his vividly rendered chapters, Sapolsky offers numerous challenges to "established" thinking. The challenges are often raw and forceful, but they must be understood fully.

A primate researcher, the author has spent many years studying baboon behaviour. Those who fear comparison with other primates may be uncomfortable with Sapolsky's conclusions. The material he draws upon for support, however, shows how universal many of our own behaviours are among our close relatives. In this book, he takes up three themes - why searching for "a gene for" any specific behaviour or illness is doomed to failure; what the body contributes to our personality; and what society contributes in determining our "selves". Each section is preceded by an introductory essay, explaining the significance of the topics discussed.

In the first section he severely condemns those who want to lock behaviour to genetics. That's an admirable end, but the selections weighed in his judgement are nearly all media accounts. Simplifying human behaviour issues sells magazines and newspapers, and his references to "those scientists" who appear to have advocated "nature over nurture" vapourise when you look for them in the text. Still, the elmination of "gene centrism" is an admirable ambition. That is what the public too often sees and the illusion needs expulsion from the collective public consciousness. He reminds us that many "genetic" drives are environmentally triggered. Whatever the rules are genes function under, they aren't rigid ones. Environment contributes, often in a major way.

In the second section, Sapolsky ranges over body-behaviour issues. From the "Twinky Defence" to definitions of dreaming, he explores how the body and brain relate to influence the mind. Emotions result from the cascades of hormones flowing through our bodies. The brain triggers many of these, but the body sends messages to the brain using that chemical medium. While all this may leave the impression that we are almost helpless observers of what these molecular signals drive us to do, the author reminds us that the "big" part of the brain, the frontal cortex, grants us a level of control denied most other animals.

Finally, we are treated to an overview of our relation to the departed. Why is there such an intense drive in humans to deal with the dead? That is most ardently expressed when the body is missing. There are bizarre cases noted here, not the least of which is story of the rituals imposed when the US Navy retrieved the bodies of drowned Japanese fishermen. Yet more intriguing are the cases of mothers finding ways to have their children hospitalised. Each time the mother visited a recovering child, there was a relapse.

That Sapolsky's style is brisk, even fervent at times, shouldn't obscure the fact that there's much in here most of us need to know. When you and your spouse argue, who concedes first? Why is this so? Daily life situations are biologically examined, without the rhetoric that might turn this into a campaign document. There is a message: that we need to learn more about what provides our emotional makeup, from domestic disputes to "over-mothering". Read this and find out what. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nature VIA nurture - a concise, witty, irreverent explanation of how our genes really operate March 15 2006
By S. J. Snyder - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is another great book in the line of Matt Ridley, driving many coffin nails through genetic determinism, including practitioners of Evolutionary Psychology (with capital letters, as a philosophical mindset) who remain more genetic determinists than they let on while claiming to preach "nature via nurture."

Sapolsky is the real deal on "nature via nurture" - indeed, it should be noted that, with the exception of a totally genetically determined thing like Huntington's disease, he preaches "nature ONLY via nurture," or something along that general line.

Beyond that, he gets into the nuts and bolts of what we know today, and don't know, about non-coding areas of our DNA, which are NOT all simply "junk DNA." Rather, you have introns and exons for marking where a coding sequence of DNA starts and stops, and even more importantly, you have regulatory, or modulating, sections of DNA, which may tell a coding section only to switch on when there are more than 12 hours of daylight per day, which could be used to trigger mating behavior.

Here are some important page by page notes:

23 "More than 95 percent of DNA is non-coding. Sure, a lot of that is the junk-packing material DNA [a lot of which may be "quarantined" remnants of viral DNA, similar to what Norton Utilities does on your PC when necessary], but your average gene comes with a huge instruction manual about how to operate it, and the operator is often environmental."

23-24 "The startling second fact is that when you examine variability in DNA sequences among individuals, the non-coding regions of DNA are considerably more variable than are the regions that code for genes." Sapolsky admits much of this is due to junk DNA areas, but that much of the variability is attributable to regulatory area. Obviously, this has huge impacts on the nurture side of things.

42-44 Good discussion of imprinted genes, which differ from Mendelian biology in that only one is active, usually the one that comes from the parent of the same sex as a child. (Note: this does NOT mean these genes are limited in placement to our sex chromosomes.) The result? These imprinting genes battle for placental and fetal growth, as male and female genes have different "urges" for the placental and fetal rates of growth, due to male-vs-female differences in mammalian breeding strategy. Placental tumors can result if only the paternal gene is active, lack of placental implantation in the uterus when only the maternal gene is active.

61 Offspring of attractive males, in many species studies, survive less often than average.

63. In a study with ducks, with attractive males, it actually appears that the female invests more energy in the egg, laying a larger egg when impregnated by an attractive male. (The egg size is under female control.)

Both of these should put some question to old stereotypes about peacock tails being signs of fitness and so increasing mating, etc. At the least, they should caution us to look for more nuanced explanations.

83ff Limbic and autonomic nervous responses come on- and offline at different rates to one another. In relation to the frontal cortex, this may help explain why intermittent rewards can actually be more psychologically reinforcing than regular ones.

177. In many species, females in some way manipulate alpha-male type males into fighting over them, to go off and mate with more "nice guy" types.

184. Why our desire for revenge? It stems out of game theory, from games such as Prisoners' Dilemma, etc., which show the value of "tit for tat altruism" - if the game is played more than once, especially if one knows a "cheater" will be back in the mix again.

But, in a one-time game, especially where a competitor is informed he/she cannot inform players of future rounds about a cheater, including not being able to inform them through the action of punishing a cheater, then revenge as our self-appointed judge and executioner's pound of flesh seems a natural action, even if we the "cheated" have to expend yet more energy to make the cheater pay.

Hence our actions in today's civilized society, namely such as flipping people off for cutting us off in traffic, etc.
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