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The Trouble with Testosterone and Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  937 Ratings  ·  71 Reviews
As a professor of biology and neuroscience at Stanford and a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant," Robert Sapolsky carries impressive credentials. Best of all, he's a gifted writer who possesses a delightfully devilish sense of humor. In these essays, which range widely but mostly focus on the relationships between biology and human behavior, hard and intrica ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 24th 1998 by Scribner (first published 1997)
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Sep 29, 2007 Jessica rated it liked it
Shelves: misc-non-fic
I love this guy (see my review for A Primate's Memoir). And by far the best thing about this book is the insight into theoretical science based in biology: he'll provide a correlation between X and Y, provide strong evidence for causation from X to Y, then step back and provide evidence for causation from Y to X, then evidence for a non-causal correlation, and then he'll finally discuss experiments that have turned everything on its head and argued that Z causes X and Y.

However, the majority of
Elizabeth Atwood
May 09, 2011 Elizabeth Atwood rated it it was amazing
WOW! Dr. Sapolsky did not disappoint...he definitely has a spot on my top five favorite authors of all time. Not only are his stories eloquent and humorous, they are packed with facts and loads of interesting information on the brain, behavior, biology, environment, emotion, and his personal anecdotes sprinkled in here and there. And they can be understood by pretty much anyone who can read. Among my favorite essays in this book is "How big is yours", which explains the plight of individuals lik ...more
Nov 10, 2012 Joe rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: learners
Fantastic writing and believable science-based articles about human physiology and about animals used to infer human physiology.
Todd Martin
May 18, 2015 Todd Martin rated it liked it
The Trouble with Testosterone is a collection of essays on the subject of biology by Robert M. Sapolsky a professor at Stanford University. More specifically Sapolsky examines some of the ways in which our biology influences behavior … topics such as: the influence of testosterone on aggression, the onset of puberty and an animal’s position in the social hierarchy, the evolutionary advantages of risk taking, the effects of stress on hormone concentrations in the body, the effects of a Westernize ...more
Jenny Preston
Nov 01, 2014 Jenny Preston rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfic
I found this collection of essays about the world and the human experience to be mostly interesting, if slightly disjointed. It is a collection - there isn't one unifying thought that ties the whole book together. The writing style is only ok due to some jumpiness and the other's clearly high opinion of himself. But mixed into that I found some fascinating stories, such as the culture of the apes he studied in South Africa and how they relate to human culture.

My worldview is about as opposite as
Jul 19, 2007 Jrobertus rated it really liked it
a wonderful book of essays on biology and human nature. the last chapter, on ocd and religion, was extraordinarily interesting.
Sep 26, 2014 Zachary rated it really liked it
I want so badly to write like Sapolsky. Academic and casual. Fact-based and personally reflective. Smart and witty but not pompous.
He is a gem of a science communicator.
Jun 05, 2017 Bridgid rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Read in college. Junk Food Monkeys was very interesting.
Lance Hartland
Sep 21, 2016 Lance Hartland rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I was hoping this book would be more like a compendium of research about testosterone. Unfortunately, there is only 10 pages or less dedicated to that subject. I guess I was misled by the title, which is purely my fault for thinking that one word in a title would imply the thesis for the book. The book had great research on a wide variety of topics, but minimal material on the subject that originally attracted to me to this book. Since my expectations weren't met, and considering the disinterest ...more
Jul 22, 2014 Stephen rated it really liked it
Behavioral biology is a fascinating field of research: how a lifeform's physiology is affected by environmental factors, such as why deer begin to grow antlers in springtime. When applied to homo sapiens, however, it becomes a muddy mess when juxtaposed against psychology, sociology, and neuroscience. Beautiful in its abstraction, the whole field seems to implode when looking at individuals because there is no pinpoint "ah-ha" thing capable of being nailed down. As a herd, however, such abstract ...more
73 - that bias must plague us scientists when we try to justify why we do the work we do. i don't mean justifications we come up w/ in our grant proposals, the final paragraphs where woe go on about the endless benefits that will occur if the NIH bless us w/ money for a few more, yrs. i mean the justifications we come up w/ in the middle of the night, when we think about being in a profession that requires us to pour radiation down a sink or to kill animals, that calls on us to work so hard that ...more
Jason Edwards
Aug 28, 2013 Jason Edwards rated it really liked it
I’d like to think that my reading Sapolsky would have been inevitable. My dad read Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers and much later a friend of mine read A Primate’s Memoir. Last week, another friend shared an All Things Considered broadcast about testosterone, which reminded of this collection of Sapolsky’s essays. I’ve read it before, but I have this idea that as we live our lives we change, as readers, so I wanted to give it another read.

Sapolsky is an endocrinologist, and if we can stretch the ter
Aug 15, 2014 Kevin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a collection of fascinating essays! The way biology and neuroscience form the foundation of our personality traits is a complex and sensitive subject, but Dr. Sapolsky is a brilliant scientist and writer, and his storytelling skills are edutainment at its finest. Sapolsky discusses the subject of personality characteristics and their biological foundations. He explores the possible philosophical extensions of such science, both for the potential benefit of our species, or for its harm. The ...more
May 14, 2013 Geordi rated it really liked it
A relevant compendium of essays examining psychological scenarios and predicaments caused by physiology. Many of these scenarios are modern and have applicable commentary. During the chapter titled Beelzebub’s SAT Scores, he describes a certain type of people, geeks, and compares their lives to Ted Kaczynski, the unabomber. He was known as an incredibly intelligent, but later deranged individual. The entire chapter compares Ted’s scenario to Sapolsky’s experiences, claiming that intelligence and ...more
May 11, 2013 Gaby rated it really liked it
Robert Sapolsky is a very interesting guy. He is a professor of neuroscience and biology at Stanford University and his main focus is studying primates and how us humans relate to them. This book includes three sections that explain the biology of our human behavior, the evolution of biology, and social and political implications of findings in biology. My main focus was the chapter "Measures of Life". In this chapter, Sapolsky explains the reasons why we make the choices we make, who are consid ...more
Victoria Haf
Feb 09, 2015 Victoria Haf rated it liked it
Amo a Robert Sapolsky y ya he visto casi todas sus pláticas en youtube, varios de estos ensayos son sobre pláticas que ha dado y por lo mismo ya las conocía, por lo que este libro no me encantó y hubo varios capítulos que los leí con "lectura rápida". De hecho creo que me gusta más oralmente que por escrito, es más simpático.
El ensayo que si me gustó mucho es el de "The dissolution of ego boundaries and the fit of my father's shirt" ya que de este no había escuchado nada y es un tema que me inte
Jul 31, 2016 Elentarri rated it really liked it
Robert Sapolsky is a Professor of Biological Sciences, and Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences, and by courtesy, Neurosurgery, at Stanford University, and his main focus is studying primates and how us humans relate to them. This is a collection of well-written, candid, humorous and interesting essays about the biology of human culture and behavior, the evolution of biology, and the social and political implications of these biological findings. Each essay contains interesting infor ...more
Christina Schilb
Mar 31, 2013 Christina Schilb rated it really liked it
Fast-forward to modern day medicine doctors and students are able to learn the anatomy of a body and find out its cause of death with out digging up a corpse. In the U.S. we have people who donate their body to science. So we are able to learn from these bodies with out disrespecting the dead. Many doctors study cadavers that range from wealthy to poor because they want to learn and study the internal organs from different classes. Sapolsky wants us to be careful when we are making new discoveri ...more
Jul 16, 2013 Andrei rated it it was amazing
This collection has some strong and captivating pieces, my personal favourites are the ones about life in Africa, the mechanics of why people feel sick when they're sick, and the way poverty alters anatomy. I wish they all had the same kind of depth that he gave the last essay on religion (which would have been my favourite piece if I hadn't already seen a presentation he did about it), as it feels like they sometimes end abruptly.. although I think my wish would be partly granted if I get ahold ...more
Colleen Coffin
May 18, 2013 Colleen Coffin rated it it was amazing
I bought more than one copy and gave many of them away to family-- that's how excited I was about this book. Robert Sapolsky is an intense thinker and brings issues into the forefront of science that ordinarily would be left to philosophers and social scientists. He has an uncanny knack to take various murcky, potentially soft-minded issues and churn them through the rigorously scrutinized Stanford research institution's most esteemed and touted paradigms of discovery and present them to the pub ...more
Jan 07, 2014 Adam rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
I was hoping the book would be on testosterone, but it was more "other essays." Still good, though. This book is especially interesting in that it was written a short time after the death of the author's father. You can see how the essays sometimes weave into that turbulent point in his life - the book culminating on the conjectured origins of religion. Topics include determinism and free will, social dimensions of baboon life, stress ((from an interesting comparative, non-human primate to human ...more
Oct 24, 2008 Christina rated it liked it
3.5 stars, really. Written by a guy that studies baboons, the whole book serves as a reminder that we're not as unique as we think we are, that every action we take might have less to do with our worldview or the decisions we think we're making freely and everything to do with the way certain parts of us are wired. Sapolsky does a good job, though, of finding the beauty in our humanity anyway, refusing to fall into defeatism or general grumpiness.

The final essay, which wonders about the similari
Dec 12, 2014 Ron rated it it was amazing
Sapolsky is always a great and illuminating read if neuroendocrinology is something you love. He tells us more about the human condition than most other science writers combined. The book is only slightly dated, as research has progressed and new information has emerged on certain subjects--see Hickcock's most recent for an explanation of the enlarged amygdala in both conservatives and those on the autism spectrum, for example--but the vast majority is still valid.

I found the final chapter on r
Aug 01, 2010 Chic2SD rated it really liked it
The bro in law gave me this book.. Really interesting to see the scientific view of how a man functions while making so many decisions in one's life based on Testosterone. The different chapters were so cool. One chapter that I remember is in regards to how male primates function in packs with testosterone evident in all their daily decisions.

It was a nice switch to go to a scientific book, that related real day stories to the human anatomy. I really believe that all men should at least give th
Mar 11, 2009 AJ rated it really liked it
This one isn't as funny as a Primate's Memoir, but it's just as good. It's along the same lines as Monkeyluv in that it's a collection of essays written over time in different scientific magazines and then compiled into a book. Some of the research is a bit dated (some of the essays are old) but it's fascinating.

If you are interested in biology, human behaviour, and other topics like that (you don't have to be smart about them, he speaks very plainly so anyone can understand) I recommend this o
Jun 01, 2012 Nicki rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, animals
This book was insanely fun to read, in such a way that made Robert Sapolsky seem like a really fun and intelligent guy to know. Some of it seemed a little outdated coming from 14 years in the future, but it was still great. I love books that completely cement my desire to go into the sciences like this one did. Maybe I'll think of it every Tuesday morning as I get up at 7am for a three-hour biology lab. Eugh.
Aug 04, 2011 Michelle rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a book of essays by one of my favorite science writers. It is well-written, each essay neatly organized, informative and entertaining. A few of the first essays went over facts and ideas I was already familiar with, but as the book goes on, the essays just get better and better, bringing up novel ideas, and new supporting information about them. The essays about the fallacies about testosterone and the one about some of the unforeseen results of westernization were my favorites.
Debra Brunk
Dec 19, 2015 Debra Brunk rated it really liked it
I really enjoy Sapolsky's writing, which I was introduced to in "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers". He makes science interesting, fun and easy-to-understand. In this book, Sapolsky focuses on seemingly random scientific trivia, providing background, research and his thoughts on each. This book is a fun way to learn a little bit more about things you may not have thought about before. Unfortunately, Sapolsky leaves his least fleshed out and least supported topic for last.
Kelly Wagner
Mar 18, 2013 Kelly Wagner rated it it was amazing
I've heard the author speak at a convention, and he's a very entertaining speaker, as well as an entertaining writer. His topic for his talk was approximately the last essay in this book, "circling the Blanker for God" - to simplify the thing too far, it's about how a touch of schizophrenia seems to produce religious visions and how it's possible that many religious prophets may be explained by schizophrenia and why such a trait would survive in the population.
Feb 18, 2016 Jenifer rated it really liked it
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Robert Maurice Sapolsky is the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of Biological Sciences, and Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences, and by courtesy, Neurosurgery, at Stanford University.
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“I am not worried if scientists go and explain everything. This is for a very simple reason: an impala sprinting across the Savannah can be reduced to biomechanics, and Bach can be reduced to counterpoint, yet that does not decrease one iota our ability to shiver as we experience impalas leaping or Bach thundering. We can only gain and grow with each discovery that there is structure underlying the most accessible levels of things that fill us with awe.

But there is an even stronger reason why I am not afraid that scientists will inadvertently go and explain everything--it will never happen. While in certain realms, it may prove to be the case that science can explain anything, it will never explain everything. As should be obvious after all these pages, as part of the scientific process, for every question answered, a dozen newer ones are generated. And they are usually far more puzzling, more challenging than than the prior problems. This was stated wonderfully in a quote by a geneticist named Haldane earlier in the century: "Life is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." We will never have our flames extinguished by knowledge. The purpose of science is not to cure us of our sense of mystery and wonder, but to constantly reinvent and reinvigorate it.”
“Part of the reason for the evolutionary success of primates, human or otherwise, is that we are a pretty smart collection of animals. What’s more, our thumbs work in particularly fancy and advantageous ways, and we’re more flexible about food than most. But our primate essence is more than just abstract reasoning, dexterous thumbs, and omnivorous diets. Another key to our success must have something to do with this voluntary transfer process, this primate legacy of feeling an itch around adolescence.” 0 likes
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