Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst
More than a decade in the making, this game-changing book is Robert Sapolsky's genre-shattering attempt to answer that question as fully as perhaps only he could, looking at it from every angle. 
 
Sapolsky's storytelling concept is delightful but it also has a powerful intrinsic logic: he starts by looking at the factors that bear on a person's reaction in the precise moment a behavior occurs, and then hops back in time from there, in stages, ultimately ending up at the deep history of our species and its evolutionary legacy.
 
And so the first category of explanation is the neurobiological one. A behavior occurs--whether an example of humans at our best, worst, or somewhere in between. What went on in a person's brain a second before the behavior happened? 
 
Then Sapolsky pulls out to a slightly larger field of vision, a little earlier in time: What sight, sound, or smell caused the nervous system to produce that behavior? And then, what hormones acted hours to days earlier to change how responsive that individual is to the stimuli that triggered the nervous system? 
 
By now he has increased our field of vision so that we are thinking about neurobiology and the sensory world of our environment and endocrinology in trying to explain what happened.
 
Behave is a towering achievement, powerfully humanizing, and downright heroic in its own right. The best books change the way you see the world. 
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