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Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  3,321 ratings  ·  307 reviews
Renowned primatologist Robert Sapolsky offers a completely revised and updated edition of his most popular work, with nearly 90,000 copies in print

Now in a third edition, Robert M. Sapolsky's acclaimed and successful Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers features new chapters on how stress affects sleep and addiction, as well as new insights into anxiety and personality disorder an
ebook, Third Edition, 560 pages
Published September 15th 2004 by Holt Paperbacks (first published 1993)
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Sep 21, 2007 John rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Shelves: non-fiction
I encountered a link to a speech by Sapolsky on Pharyngula, I think, and was immediately engaged by his speaking style. His books, or this one at least, is similarly easy to get into, and manages to discuss topics of fair complexity in an incredibly approachable way. He's clearly aware that his book might be read by a wide range of audiences, and strives to provide something for everyone. I'll definitely be working my way through the rest of his catalog.

The book is fascinating, too, although as
Non-Fiction. Twelve chapters on how stress is going to kill you, followed by six chapters on why stress is stressful, when it's not, and what we can do about it.

If you're a worrier, this may not be the book for you. I won't lie, it upset me in the beginning. There are so many ways that stress can affect your health, your memory, the way you age, how you deal with stressors, and even how your children deal with stressors. The book can become a source of stress itself, one that far outweighs the f
Chung Chin
This is a book packed full of information on how stress can cause our body to go haywire. You will find explanation for how stress affects your weight, sleep, and health in general.
Although there are still lots of jargon and terms in the book that you will find alien, the explanation is given in the most simple way possible, making it an accessible material in general.

However, after reading through all the chapters on how stress can wreak havoc to our body, you don't actually get a lot of materi
This is hands down the best medical book I have ever read. In a series of memorable and highly amusing stories and anecdotes Sapolsky explains the complex biology behind why well known principles of psychology, religion, new age philosophy and even voodoo curses work.

The central story of the book is how the fight or flight response – the most powerful force that has shaped vertebrate evolution for hundreds of millions of years - is now being turned against modern humans through chronic stress a
Nick Weeks
Well researched book. Sapolsky, who I am a big fan of, explains why certain types of stresses like long work days end up having more serious negative effects on your physiology than do other types of stress such as a lion chasing after you. Sure the lion stresses you out then and there but a week from now your bodily functions won't still be affected by it.

My one beef with this book is that it doesn't give you much in the way of how to handle stress. I felt somewhat more stressed after reading
Sapolsky's primer on neuroendocrinology benefits greatly from a new edition in that the metaphors are more topical and a great deal of old theory has been validated by modern research, showing that psychological stress does indeed ultimately have a physiological component (organ stress due to wildly fluctuating hormone levels). The upshot is that we all need to find our own unique ways of coping with stress based on our personality types and numerous other factors in order to live long and healt ...more
First off, Sapolsky is a delightful writer. For a rather depressing book on all the scientifically understood harmful effects of stress, this book is often laugh out loud funny. But beyond that, Sapolsky is brilliant. He makes complex topics seem simple, but doesn't simplify to the point of losing the complexity. Quite a feat. If you are ever curious about examining what stress really is, and what effect it has on your body, this book is a must-read (especially useful I think for yoga teachers).
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Mr. Sapolsky attacks a very scientific subject with wit and charm. If you're a biologist or anthropologist or like me, just a reader who's interested in finding out more about our bodies and about my disease, multiple sclerosis, you will greatly enjoy this book. I took it in chunks and that was probably the best thing to do but I do recommend it for anyone who's curious about how chronic stress affects the human body.
Everyone should read this book! A highly readable (and very funny) exploration of how stress affects human health. The book is a little long (as it covers a lot of ground) but it reads quickly, and the science descriptions were extremely lucid and easy to follow. I appreciated that the author repeated frequently that the mind-body connection can never be reduced to either "It's all genes" or "It's all in your mind", and refused to buy into either extreme. I felt he had a very sane approach to th ...more
Theresa Truax-Gischler
I read this book several years ago, and still go back to it periodically. If you ever thought that stress was not a killer, that we are not heavily influenced by our environment and by our responses to it, think again and read this book. Sapolsky’s meticulously detailed research and literature survey on stress is a lovely biology science background to implementing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy approaches to your own life.

The structure of our brain, our metabolism, our hormones, our immune s
Chris Herdt
This book is a good introduction to stress and its effects on physiology and psychology (Nicola's area of expertise). Although it is written for a lay audience, I often got the feeling it was written for a lay audience of primarily MDs.

By the end of the book, you will feel like you and epinephrine, norepinephrine, and glucocorticoids are all old friends--but in spite of the terminology, it is really an easy read and full of good humor and interesting anecdotes (e.g. hyenas are very peculiar).

I like to throw a little nonfiction onto my night stand every now and then to help broaden my horizons and to learn a little more about new subject areas. And this was the perfect book for just that. The author writes in a lucid style infused with a sense of personal familiarty and playfulness that helps ameliorate some of the denser concepts. And though I didn't take notes as I was reading there is a little part of me that regrets that I didn't. Even so I come away from this with a much great a ...more
A brilliantly written analysis of stress. The basics are simple and well understood, but Sapolsky gets into the details and they are fascinating. For example, if a child suffers extreme stress, he/she can simply stop growing. In a Victorian example, a family with two sons suffered the death of the older child from one of those dread Victorian diseases. The mother took to her bed and refused to recognize the younger son for the rest of her life, instead greeting him as the ghost of her dead son w ...more
Bob Klein
Sapolsky is an amazing writer and Primate's Memoir ranks as one of my favorite books. That said, the title, cover, and prior experience with Primate's Memoir led me to have unrealistic expectations of this book. It is thorough and well-written, but approaches the topic of stress from a phsyiological perspective that doesn't spare any of the details. As such, it often calmed my stress by putting me to sleep. The subtitle's promise of a section on "coping" with stress didn't pan out, and amounted ...more
To summarize: Adrenaline is a DEATH drug. It's designed to keep you alive for the next 15 seconds, or to ease your death. As such, it's necessarily thriftless. If you can survive to the 16th second only by losing a limb, it's worthwhile to sacrifice the limb. Otherwise, it's wasteful and disabling.

Zebras don't get ulcers because they (mostly) only release stress hormones 'in the event of an actual emergency'. Humans deliberately evoke stress on an everyday basis, and the reckless decisions the b
Years ago I read A Primate's Memoir and was enthralled at Sapolsky's style of writing, sense of humor, and ability to communicate complex scientific ideas into fully graspable concepts for non-scientists. This last year, I've been battling stress related illness, and I was recommended this book by health professionals. This book is no exception to Sapolsky's brilliance, style, humor, politically nuanced lessons, outstandingly easy to understand explanations of complex neuropharmacology processes ...more
This is a pretty good book on stress, in animals as well as humans. I like his scientific style (though as with most academics, his prose style could be improved). He has a straight-forward way of presenting complex information without dumbing it down too much (I've been comparing it to an actual endocrinology textbook).
The end of the book also provides a much-needed element of perspective on what it really means to be poor in America, discussing why universal health care won't make a huge diff
I discovered Sapolsky by stumbling upon his Stanford lecture course ‘Human Behavioral Biology’ ( Despite the mind-numbing name the course is actually quite excellent, Sapolsky is a great communicator and covers a very wide spectrum of subjects that are directly (e.g. genetics) or indirectly (e.g. chaos) related to human behavior. More theory-leaning lectures on molecular genetics, behavioral genetics, endocrinology, reductionism are fantastic, while I ca ...more
I found this book to be immensely informative, truly insightful and maddeningly well researched and documented. If one does even a fair study of the presented material, one could fake one's way as having a PhD in stress related phenomenon (not recommended). Not only the book goes into great lengths at causes, effects and solutions posed by stress, it also identifies why stress is more of a problem today than ever before (we have more perceived threats than actual ones). The author does not throw ...more
I became a fan of Sapolsky when I discovered his lectures on youtube. He is a very careful and thourough scientist and at the same time funny and able to make links between a wide range of fields. For me the first 12 chapters of the book were more detailed than I needed, it was easier to take in his Standford University lectures than to follow the written word. Chapter 13 on are topics that he didn't cover so much in his Standford class, and were the most interesting to me. The first 12 chapters ...more
Let's be clear this is not light-reading. It is funny fairly often but it is long and fairly tough going. This is not because the author is a bad writer, he is a great writer. I wouldn't want to read this by any other author. This is not a medical textbook but this is not your normal pop-science book. You will learn a ton about your body and how it functions. I still need to re-read the chapters explaining immune system functioning, heart disease and a few others to really get those.
Charles Gallagher
In Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, acclaimed biologist Robert Sapolsky combines humor and science to deliver fascinating information about stress and the many diseases caused by stress.
As far as nonfiction goes, this was the most entertaining and informative book I have read. This book would be great for anyone interested in learning the science behind stress and it's effects on the body while enjoying themselves.
Karenbike Patterson
Watch out for glucocorticoid. That hormone can be really destructive if it doesn't turn off. It's helpful in the flight or fight scenario but, for people with a lot of chronic stress, it can be like having a constant flow of chemical that says "Run!" This can cause diseases, depression, and, in the case of anxiety, having your sympathetic nerve system turned on full flow. When you are sleep deprived, aging, in chronic pain, or just a certain personality type that doesn't do denial, then you are ...more
Matt Holmes
A hugely informative book that served as a refresher of all my Biopsych courses, only harder and more complicated. Sapolsky missed his calling as a comedian. He's genuinely likeable, and there really aren't that many physiology books currently on the market that can be described as "laugh out loud funny".

But I did. I LOL'd. Unabashed.

The take-home (or punchline, as Sapolsky was fond of referring to every thought that wasn't a quip -- but after 560 pages of the guy, I can say with a fair degree o
Cornelia Litu
This book is one of the most interesting and captivating works to tackle the problem of stress, from both a physiological and social perspective.

The book is not so much a prescriptive manual for stress reduction but rather an attempt at explaining the evolution of the stress response in the animal kingdom and the adaptive mechanisms responsible for passing this stress mechanism form one generation to the other.

Despite the nature of the subject, I found the explanations and language of the book
Should be compulsory reading for every high school biology student. A thorough dismantling of the reductionist cell biology mindset of the 20th century, Sapolsky shows you how very complex and intricate the interaction is between organism and environment, and how 'genes' may be overrated in a lot of ways.
Most of the book describes the physiology of what happens in your body, under stress, and explanations as to why it happens. It is a whole catalog of all the different kinds of stressors and how it can be downward spiral, if not kept in check. Suggestions as to what to do to keep stress in check come near the end, and aren't really that new. Exercise, meditate, use healthy outlets for frustration and find social support. His examples of what stress does to a person come from scientific research ...more
This book presents a variety of research on the effects of chronic stress on the body in an approachable, understandable way. There were a few issues I had with the book tho:
* Its main point could have been conveyed in a way more succint way. Some sections feel like fillers.
* The stressors the book points out in the research are a whole order of magnitude larger than what your average middle class person encounters in life - no real comparison between being a rat being rattled in a cage, shocked
Most scientific books are dry and overly technical. Not so with Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. This book is laugh-out-loud funny.
Enlightening and full of humor. Complex pathways of stress mechanisms are untangled and presented in a simple yet captivating way.
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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.
More about Robert M. Sapolsky...
A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals The Trouble with Testosterone and Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality Stress and Your Body

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