Book review: Monkeyluv

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Robert Sapolsky's new book, Monkeyluv, is a collection of essays that were published previously in the popular press. A lot of this (especially the stuff on stress) is ground he's covered before, but it's still worth reading. For my money, the two best are "The Genetic War Between Men And Women" and "Anatomy of a Bad Mood".

The Genetic War Between Men and Women (originally published in Discover in 1999) is about the different mating incentives that males and females have and the strategies they use to try to fulfill them:

The first battleground is the placenta, a tissue that can seem more than a little creepy. It's only partially related to the female, but it invades (a term used in obstetrics) her body, sending tentacles towards her blood vessels to divert nutrients for the benefit of this growing creature. The placenta is also the scene of a pitched battle, with paternally derived genes pushing it to invade more aggressively while maternally derived genes try to hold it back. How do we know this? In rare diseases, maternal or paternal genes related to placental growth are mutated and knocked out of action. Lose the paternal input, and the antigrowth maternal component is left unopposed--you get diseases where the placenta never invades the endometrium, so the fetus has no chance to grow. In contrast, remove the maternal input and let those paternal genes run wild unopposes, and you get placental invasiveness over the top--a stupendously aggressive cancer called choriocarcinoma. Thus, normal placental implantation represents an uneasy stalemate.

Anatomy of a Bad Mood (originally published in Mens Health in 2003) is basically a neurophysiological take on the way that fights happen:

Here's how it happens. You've done something piggish to your significant other, something stupid and selfish and insensitive. She's pissed. So you argue. And you make things worse initially by trying to defend yourself.

Somewhere amid the heated exchange, you actually think about what you've done, consider it from her perspective, and realize, Jeez, I was a total jerk. You apologize. You make it sound as if you sincerely mean it You actually do sincerely mean it.

She accepts your apology, does a "But don't you ever do that again" parting shot with a flair of the nostrils. You start to feel pretty pleased with yourself; got off easy this time, you realize. That flair of her nostrils has even made you think about sex. You eye the bedroom. Phew, sure glad that's over with.

And then she suddenly dredges up some argument the two of you had about some other jerky thing you did years ago, the time you forgot to do X, or the time she caught you doing Y. It has nothing to do with the jerky thing you just did. You barely remember it. But she remembers every detail and is raring to go over it again in all its minutiae, just when the tension was dissipating.

What's up with this? (And why have you done the same on occasion?) It's not because she's unconsciously trying to torpedo the relationship, or because she gets some obscure pleasure from fighting. It is simply that her limbic and autonomic nervous systems operate at different speeds.

So, definitely interesting and worth a read. My major complaint about this book is pricing: at $16 At $24 and just over 200 pages, I found it a little steep. Even at $16 from Amazon1, it was just at the limit of what I'm willing to pay.

1. Amazon's ultra-steep discounting on new books is making it pretty difficult for me to patronize my local bookstore. I already have Amazon Prime so 2-day shipping is free. When the price difference is $6-8 a book, it's pretty easy to justify waiting 2 days.

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