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Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky image

Acclaimed Author, Stress Expert, Biologist & Neuroscientist

BIOGRAPHY

As a boy, Robert M. Sapolsky dreamed of living inside the African dioramas in New York’s Museum of Natural History. By age twenty-one, he made it to Africa and joined a troop of baboons. Although being a naturalist appealed to him because it was a chance to “get the hell out of Brooklyn,” he never left people behind.  

In fact, he chose to live with the baboons because they are perfect for learning about stress and health in humans. Like their human cousins, baboons live in large, complex social groups with plenty of free time, Dr. Sapolsky writes, “to devote to being rotten to each other” – for a baboon or human, “stress” is rarely about evading a lion.  Instead, it’s mostly about members of your own species psychologically stressing you.  And this is precisely when stress-related disease arises, Dr. Sapolsky explains in his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.  And like people, baboons are good material for stories. His gift for storytelling led The New York Times to suggest, “If you crossed Jane Goodall with a borscht-belt comedian, she might have written a book like A Primate’s Memoir,” Dr. Sapolsky’s account of his years as a field biologist.   

Sapolsky’s unique perspective on the human condition comes from his more than thirty years spent as both a field primatologist and a laboratory neuroscientist.  As a result, he effortlessly moves from discussing pecking orders in primate societies (human and baboon) to explaining the neurochemistry of stress—in ways that even science-phobics readily understand.   

What fascinates Dr. Sapolsky most about human behavior is a paradox – we are both the most violent species on earth, as well as the most altruistic, cooperative and empathic.  In his most recent book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, he examines how every act – heroic, appalling, or in between – is caused by the neurobiology that occurred a second before, the environmental stimuli minutes before that triggered that neurobiology, hormonal influences during prior hours….all the way back to childhood and fetal experience sculpting our brains, and the effects of genes, culture, ecology and evolution.   

Out of this comes a perspective that as biological organisms, we have far less free will than usually assumed; Dr. Sapolsky’s most recent work focuses on how to think about this, whether considering the actions of a murderer, or the actions for which you are praised.   This synthesis is the basis of his upcoming book, Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, is a New York Times best-seller, Washington Post Best Book of 2017, and received the Los Angeles Times book prize.  Sapolsky has also written A Primate’s Memoir, which won the 2001 Bay Area Book Reviewers Award in nonfiction, Why Zebras Don’t Get UlcersThe Trouble with Testosterone, and Monkeyluv and Other Essays on our Lives as Animals. Dr. Sapolsky was awarded Rockefeller University’s Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science for 2008. His articles have appeared in publications such as Discover, The Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, and The Wall Street Journal.  

Dr. Sapolsky is a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, a professor of biology, neurology and neurosurgery at Stanford University, and a research associate at the National Museum of Kenya. His 2008 National Geographic special on stress, and his on-line lectures about human behavioral biology, have been watched tens of millions of times. The humor and humanity he brings to sometimes-sobering subject matter make Dr. Sapolsky a fascinating speaker. He lectures widely on topics as diverse as stress and stress-related diseases, biology and the free will debate, the biology of our individuality, the biology of religious belief, depression, memory, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease.  

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