Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst


“Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst” is a book by Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist and primatologist, who is also a professor of biology, neuroscience, and neurosurgery at Stanford University.

The book was published in 2017 and addresses the complex question of why humans behave the way they do, delving into various biological and environmental factors.

In this review, I will discuss how to read the book, who should read it, major principles from the book with contemporary examples, and conclude with an overall analysis.

  1. How to Read:

“Behave” is a dense book filled with a wealth of information spanning various disciplines such as biology, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. To effectively read and absorb the content, it is advisable to take a slow and steady approach.

  • Pace Yourself: Given the scientific depth of the book, it’s best to read it in chunks and not rush through it. Take the time to understand and internalize the concepts.
  • Take Notes: Keeping a notepad or making annotations in the book can be beneficial for remembering key points and connecting the dots between different sections.
  • Stay Open-Minded: Some of the concepts in the book may challenge pre-existing beliefs. It’s important to approach the book with an open mind, willing to consider different perspectives.

2. Who Should read ?

 Educators and School Counselors (Age Group 25-60):

As professionals who are deeply involved in shaping the minds of the younger generation, educators and school counselors can significantly benefit from reading “Behave”.

Understanding the biological and environmental factors influencing behavior can help them develop more effective strategies for classroom management, student engagement, and addressing the mental health of students.

For instance, educators can use the knowledge of how different hormones and neurotransmitters affect learning and attention to create a more conducive learning environment.

Similarly, school counselors can understand the impact of early childhood experiences on student behavior and offer better-targeted guidance and support.

Given that these professionals typically fall in the age range of 25 to 60 years, they have enough experience and understanding to appreciate the complexities discussed in the book and apply them in practical settings.

  •   Policy Makers and Social Workers (Age Group 30-65):

Policy makers and social workers are often tasked with addressing societal issues and improving community welfare. Reading “Behave” can provide them with insights into the underlying factors that contribute to human behavior, which is critical for creating policies and programs that effectively address societal challenges such as crime, poverty, and inequality.

For example, policy makers in their 30s to 60s can use the information on the role of environment in shaping behavior to formulate policies that aim at improving living conditions and education, thereby reducing crime rates and improving societal health.

Social workers, often in the age group of 25 to 65, can employ the knowledge in their work, whether it be in community development, counseling, or family support, by understanding the biological and sociological underpinnings of behavior.

3. Major Principles from the Book with Contemporary Examples:

“Behave” offers several major principles:

a. The Biological Basis of Behavior: Sapolsky explains that human behavior has its roots in brain chemistry, hormones, and genes.

For example, aggression can be linked to levels of testosterone and the neurotransmitter serotonin.

In today’s world, this understanding has shaped how societies deal with criminal behavior. Some legal systems now consider the biological aspects of a defendant’s background when determining culpability.

b. The Impact of Environment: The book highlights how environments, especially during early childhood, can have lasting impacts on behavior.

The adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) study is a contemporary example, showing that individuals exposed to abuse or neglect during childhood are more likely to exhibit behavioral issues later in life.

c. Us vs. Them Mentality: Sapolsky addresses how humans are predisposed to categorize people into in-groups and out-groups.

This principle is evident in the political polarization that is prevalent in many countries. The rise of nationalism and xenophobia in some regions is a manifestation of this ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality.

d. The Complexity of Altruism: The book delves into the complexity of altruistic behavior, from a biological and sociological perspective. Today’s movements for climate change, where individuals and groups work for the greater good of the planet, often at personal cost, are examples of altruism in action.


“Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst” is an ambitious and in-depth exploration of human behavior through the lenses of biology, psychology, and sociology.

The book’s richness and complexity may be challenging for some readers, but its insights are invaluable. By merging scientific rigor with a captivating narrative, Robert Sapolsky manages to make intricate concepts accessible to a broad audience.

Whether you are an academic, a professional in a related field, or simply a curious mind, “Behave” offers a rewarding journey into understanding the marvels and mysteries of human behavior. Thank you for reading.

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