Jonathan Cape, Octavo, dustwrapper,
This fascinating collection of essays exposes us as the animals that we are while explaining behaviours that are deeply and recognizably human. The first section, ‘Our Genes and Who We Are’, focuses on our genetic endowment and the forces it creates in our lives, such as our need to seek out beauty. Another essay explains the invisible genetic warfare that takes place between men and women as they conceive a baby, which continues as the foetus develops. The second part of the book, ‘Our Bodies and Who We Are’, ponders such diverse topics as why dreams are in fact dream-like; why we are sexually attracted to one another; why Alzheimer’s disease tends to be a post-menopausal phenomenon; and why grandmothers buying groceries for their grandchildren are part of nature’s Darwinian logic. In the third section, ‘Society and Who We Are,’ Sapolsky takes his interdisciplinary curiosity out into the wilds of civilization and poses such interesting questions as when and why our preferences in food become fixed. Or, why do desert cultures tend to be monotheistic and sexually repressed whereas rainforest dwellers tend towards sexually-relaxed polytheistic cultures? Why do people from the lower economic classes have more health problems? In each of these investigations, we see Sapolsky’s brilliant mind synthesizing a wealth of research in a thoughtful, engaging way that satisfyingly reveals the enormous complexity of simply being a human animal.