Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals

A collection of insights on the fascinating social mammal known as man

By Robert M. Sapolsky

Scribner (2005), $24

"An open mind is a prerequisite to an open heart," Sapolsky writes at the end of Monkeyluv, and if there's a through-line in this wide-ranging and wonderful essay collection, it's the author's ceaseless curiosity about the social mammal known as man. Sapolsky -- a Stanford professor of biology and neurology, a primatologist whose books include A Primate's Memoir, and that rare egghead blessed with genuine wit -- takes us from the pages of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" issue (wherein he finds a lesson about genetic determinism) to the nonsense world of our dreams ("Why are dreams dreamlike?" he wonders, then manages to answer) to the female baboons that curiously would rather mate with a "nice guy" (or, as he puts it, "the Alan Aldas of their society"). In his essay "The Cultural Desert," Sapolsky rues the ascendancy of ancient desert culture, from which modern civilization has descended and whose legacy can be seen in the pinched, backward thinking across the world. "Only one way to think, to do, to be. Crusades and jihads, fatwas and inquisitions, hellfire and damnation," he writes, a cri de couer from a man who's made a career of his broad-mindedness. Part pop-science and part polemic -- most emphatically against the much-hyped idea of the genome as the oracle of behavior -- Monkeyluv never hectors its reader with jargon and Punnett squares. Indeed, Sapolsky manages to be both funny and lucid about some of the more complex issues in science. He is "one of the best scientist-writers of our time," blurbs Oliver Sacks, who would know. Somebody should clone this guy.

 
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