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  • Published: 25 May 2017
  • ISBN: 9781448129782
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 800


The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

A groundbreaking synthesis of the entire science of human behaviour by 'one of the best scientist-writers of our time' (Oliver Sacks)


Why do human beings behave as they do?

'Awe-inspiring. You will learn more about human nature than in any other book I can think of' Henry Marsh, bestselling author of Do No Harm

We are capable of savage acts of violence but also spectacular feats of kindness: is one side of our nature destined to win out over the other?

Every act of human behaviour has multiple layers of causation, spiralling back seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, even centuries, right back to the dawn of time and the origins of our species.

In the epic sweep of history, how does our biology affect the arc of war and peace, justice and persecution? How have our brains evolved alongside our cultures?

This is the exhilarating story of human morality and the science underpinning the biggest question of all: what makes us human?

'One of the best scientist-writers of our time' Oliver Sacks

  • Published: 25 May 2017
  • ISBN: 9781448129782
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 800

About the author

Robert M Sapolsky

Robert M. Sapolsky holds degrees from Harvard and Rockefeller Universities and is currently a Professor of Biology and Neurology at Stanford University and a Research Associate with the Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya. He is the author of The Trouble with Testosterone, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers (both finalists for the LA Times Book Award), and A Primate's Memoir. Sapolsky has contributed to Natural History, Discover, Men's Health, and Scientific American, and is a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant.

Also by Robert M Sapolsky

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Praise for Behave

Awe-inspiring … This is the best scientific book written for non-specialists that I have ever read. You will learn more about human nature than in any other book I can think of, and you will be inspired

Henry Marsh, author of Do No Harm

It’s no exaggeration to say that Behave is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read

Wall Street Journal

Behave is the best detective story ever written, and the most important. If you've ever wondered why someone did something – good or bad, vicious or generous – you need to read this book. If you think you already know why people behave as they do, you need to read this book. In other words, everybody needs to read it. It should be available on prescription (side effects: chronic laughter; highly addictive). They should put Behave in hotel rooms instead of the Bible: the world would be a much better, wiser place

Kate Fox, author of Watching the English

Magisterial … This extraordinary survey of the science of human behaviour takes the reader on an epic journey … Sapolsky makes the book consistently entertaining, with an infectious excitement at the puzzles he explains … a miraculous synthesis of scholarly domains

Steven Poole, Guardian

Truly all-encompassing … detailed, accessible, fascinating


Rarely does an almost 800-page book keep my attention from start to finish, but Behave is exceptional in its scale, scope, detail and writing style ... Sapolsky places what makes us special in the wider context of humans as animals with brains that are fundamentally similar to those of other species. It is the first book that does so comprehensively enough to qualify as a guide to human behaviour

Frans de Waal, Science

A miraculous book, by far the best treatment of violence, aggression, and competition ever. Its depth and breadth of scholarship are amazing, building on Sapolsky’s own research and his vast knowledge of the neurobiology, genetic, and behavioral literature. All this is done brilliantly with a light and funny touch that shows why Sapolsky is recognized as one of the greatest teachers in science today

Paul Ehrlich, author of Human Natures

A great writer and a superb guide to human nature, Sapolsky shows you how all the perspectives and systems connect, and he makes you laugh and marvel along the way. A beautifully crafted work about the biology of morality

Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind

One of the best scientist-writers of our time

Oliver Sacks

Behave is like a great historical novel, with excellent prose and encylopedic detail. It traces the most important story that can ever be told

E O Wilson

As wide as it is deep, this book is colorful, electrifying, and moving. Sapolsky leverages his deep expertise to ask the most fundamental questions about being human

David Eagleman, author of Incognito

Marvellous. Behave gives us the knowledge of how to manifest more of our best selves and less of our worst, individually and as a society

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit

One of the finest natural history writers around

The New York Times

Robert Sapolsky’s students must love him … witty, erudite and passionate about clear communication … the implications of fascinating scientific findings are illuminated through topical stories … then Sapolsky reaches for the big, synthetic pay-offs, examining how, together, these insights can enhance our understanding of the forces that lead to tribalism, violence, dehumanization and war – as well as tolerance, empathy and peace … The analysis is arresting and the writing is often moving … It is impossible not to deeply admire a project bold entire to ask an entire field to work to create a more just and peaceful world


Sapolsky’s book shows in exquisite detail how culture, context and learning shape everything our genes, brains, hormones and neurons do

Times Literary Supplement

There has never been a better time for Robert Sapolsky's Behave: the Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst to appear. For those as perplexed and conflicted as me about such seismic political events as Brexit and the election of US President Donald Trump, the book helps not only to tease apart the factors that can lead people to behave in ways that seem to make no sense, but also to explain our own reaction. There is no part of the current craziness of the world this book does not touch, from terrorism and nationalism to nuclear posturing and ethnic cleansing… It is brilliant and insightful, lucid and conversational, authoritative, and fair to different points of view. It is the best guide I know of to the vicissitudes of human behaviour, an antidote to sensationalist easy answers… Behave is the antidote to all those pop psychology books that promise the secret of why we do what we do

Philip Ball, Lancet

A wonderfully lucid, scholarly and witty account of the biological basis of human behavior… Once you have read it, you will see neither yourself nor your fellow humans in the same way as before

Henry Marsh, New Statesman

A masterly cross-disciplinary scientific study of human behaviour.

New York Times Top Books of 2017

Excellent – we get fascinating analysis of how we think, how we emote, how we act.

William Leith, Evening Standard

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