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

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,154 ratings  ·  84 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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Michael Which topic? Have you read the book? Science has plenty to say, and many details have been added, but this book isn't a litany of scientific findings.…moreWhich topic? Have you read the book? Science has plenty to say, and many details have been added, but this book isn't a litany of scientific findings. It's structured around first-person narratives and a general synthesis of science and everyday life.(less)

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4.11  · 
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 ·  1,154 ratings  ·  84 reviews

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Sep 29, 2007 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 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
Steve Loh
Aug 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Some of the finest essays I've read. On par with David Foster Wallace with the difference that it is applied to biology.
Nov 10, 2012 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 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 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 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 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.
May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.2 stars. Some great insights in here. Among the different topics discussed in these essays:

- The moral dilemma of choosing to attribute negative behavior to genetics and "nature".
- The effects of our environment on the onset of puberty
- How and why monkeys change tribes once they've grown.
- On how males and females (in general) view friendships throughout the years, and why old monkeys go through the harsh process of changing tribes.
- Why some diseases/disorders like schizophrenia survive thro
Ben Smitthimedhin
Oct 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Being healthy, it has been said, really consists of having the same disease as everyone else."

Robert M. Sapolsky's The Trouble with Testosterone wrestles with the question of what makes humans who/what they are; where is the line which distinguishes who a person is from his biology? Are we just a product of different chemical reactions? Can we really be held responsible for the crimes we commit from a biological standpoint? What if all the traits we thought were only personal to us are "nothing
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Sapolsky had me with this gem of an introduction: "We all have encountered Reinhold Niebuhr's serenity prayer at some point: 'God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.' Behavioral biology is often the scientific pursuit of that prayer. Which of our less commendable ways of behaving, asks the behavioral biologist, can we hope to change (and how) and which are we stuck with? Asked in a harsher way-- as ou ...more
Dec 04, 2017 rated it liked it
A thought-provoking read; it would be good to have strong evidence to back up the links that he makes, particularly when making a jump from animal to human behavior based simply on similar neurobiology. Additionally, it seems that much of his assumptions are largely rooted in Western constructions of normality, with little consideration for non-Western behaviors. Ultimately, I found this book to contain much to make me think, and little to make me believe, despite the given facts. Perhaps that i ...more
Tien Manh
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent collection of essays on...biology of the human predicament (as the title suggests). Schizophrenia, dementia, violence, stress, fear of death, aging, "zoopharmacognosy"...

Some philosophy involved.
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book

I have read Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers as well and again Saplosky writes amazing science I did feel like a couple things were repeated but everything was more in depth really good read
Peter Banachowski
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the funniest and most thoughtful writers to breathe life into nonfiction work

I recommend everything he writes
May 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Extremely interesting with clear writing and big ideas. Contrarian, sensational and unorthodox views and facts about our bodies and society at play here - Highly recommended.
Brad Hayes
Nov 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Although Sapolsky is responsible for one of my all-time favorite works of nonfiction ("A Primate's Memoir," 2001), this earlier anthology was hit-or-miss for me.
Marta Kazic
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biology
beautifully written, clear and concise, quite challenging concepts when considered on a global social/ethical scale.
Saul Nonato
Dec 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
my favorite book is really fantastic
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Read in college. Junk Food Monkeys was very interesting.
Lance Hartland
Sep 21, 2016 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 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 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
May 14, 2013 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 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
Aug 15, 2014 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
Jul 31, 2016 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 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 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
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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. In addition, he is a research associate at the National Museums of Kenya.

Sapolsky has received numerous honors and awards for his work, including the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship genius grant i
“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.” 2 likes
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