While I wholly understand the reason that these chapters are placed early in the sequence of the thesis (being that the book scales outward, starting with the literal smallest piece of potentially relevant biological influence and incrementally moving out to the macro-scale evolution of globalized, cooperative culture), it's a shame that the intensity and niche specificity of the early chapters come before the parts that a layperson could more easily connect with... I'm sure plenty of readers who would have delighted in the second half of this work were unable to make it past the first half.
Still, I would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the mess that is the modern human, go for the audio book and just let the words wash over you (possibly skipping many of the early chapters).
The most important piece of this, in my realm of study, is actually the introduction. This is the first book in the realm of so-called 'hard science' in which the reality of Academia is called out and appropriately decimated. The divisions between subjects taught and studied in schools are arbitrary and nonsensical. They are useful boxes to make people feel like they have a safe and comfy niche to work in and use to declare their own identities via pre-defined shortcuts. But if you're truly in a venue to learn you absolutely must approach a subject with interdisciplinary awareness. In learning sciences, we call this mixing of disciplines interleaving and I mentioned it a while ago in my review of How We Learn by Benedict Carey.
Sapolsky is the first truly respectable hard science guru I've found to laboriously press home the point at this arbitrariness being useful only in the sense of easing personal identity definitions and creating a sense of in-group cohesion. (There is also an argument for varied disciplines that raises its head in terms of budgetary concerns for academic institution, which is an avenue to explore another day and is itself an argument in favor of how considering something through multiple lenses is the only way to truly understand it).
The adolescence chapter (chapter 6) is one I highly recommend, as it both shows how unfortunate it truly is to exist as a teenager and proves beyond any entitled, obnoxious parental whinging that grown ups do NOT remember what it was like to be a teenager. You absolutely cannot recall with any degree of accuracy, while utilizing your currently operational frontal cortex to draw on the memories, what it was like to experience life when half of your adult brain was essentially offline. (I have a soap box for this. And I scream from it on an almost daily basis. A solid half the reason I hate most parent is that most parents are the primary reason their teenagers hate life.)
Furthermore, this book has 2 additional pieces that I adore.
Chapters 10 through 15 are the core of the reason I find this book valuable to the lay-person. They examine the circumstances of behavior through lenses that the average human can negotiate and with a congenial frankness that invites readers to consider their own circumstances, as well as those of others they encounter, on a continuous and casual level of expanded comprehension. It's not necessarily the kind of eye-opining that forces people to rethink their entire existence, per se, (though it certainly has that potential for some readers), but it does a thorough job of helping an already open-minded person clean off their windshield from the inside where you can't even tell there's a layer of grime until you've wiped it off.
And then Chapter 16 pops up. 16 is the most controversial chapter of this book, being that it discusses the concept of abolishing, not just the police, but the entire modern criminal justice system as a whole. It also delves into the concepts of free-will (and the Hobbes / Locke / Rousseau argument, though it does fail, somewhat, to fully explain what that argument entails or who stood for which side of it...), which actually ties well into the arguments of Time Progression in physics and the Causational theory of History. It gets WILD. But it manages to make a solid, logical case for a rehashing of the considerations of what Justice truly means and how Punishment needs to be understood to be utilized effectively in a modern world.
All in all, it's quite amazing. And the congenial, down-to-earth delivery is delightful. The narrative voice is one of inviting friendliness and pervasively judgement-free guided exploration. Rather than a didactic lecture with pejorative weight behind it, reading this book feels like playing a teaching-game with a beloved grandfather.
That said, it's not 100% perfect, obviously.
It's LONG. And while I loved every second of my reading of it, I'm sure I'm the outlier. This is NOT, on its own, a layperson book. Unless you're willing to skip chapters or deep dive into nearly incomprehensible strings of abbreviations, a normal, casual reader will not make it through this beast.
Secondly, while it does call out other respected scientists for cherry-picking data (like Steven Pinker, whom I bear a particularly spikey and resolutely low threshold for bullshit), Sapolsky fails, himself, to discuss the on-going issues of replication being grappled with regarding some of the studies he references. Now this IS a new enough book that some of that failure can be forgiven as optimism that in the near future other labs will be able to replicate the findings of certain circumstances, but it still ought to be addressed (particularly as some of the studies are a great deal older than the book presently reporting on them).
There is clear personal stake in these matters, too, which makes sense as it's not a cut-and-dry piece of research publication and is instead a personal entreaty to consider the broader view from the perspective of someone infinitely too privileged to respect beyond the safe boundaries of Stanford's sunny promenades. Like seriously, if I took this guy on a foot tour of Queens, I'm like 80% sure we'd both just drop dead. If not, I'd probably kill him myself when he quibbles over the price of a banana (often a whooping full dollar per pound with tax, these days).
Honestly, if we got stuck in an elevator together and he were even a smidgeon less fascinating than he is, he'd be walking out of there with a black eye.
In the same way as he elucidates that a grown-up cannot recall being a teenager, he fails to truly recognize how unbelievably wealthy he is to the point of inevitably causing a painful degree of friction. He even acknowledges his privilege, and that of the reader, but he fails to connect that privilege to the particular rosiness of his glasses. It's a fact that makes chapter 16 more amusing than truly compelling, and it threatens a lot of his credibility in that, when combined with his congenial tone, can potentially make a lot of this come off as condescending. I think he manages to avoid that, for the most part, but that's coming from a place of being, myself, atrociously over-educated, painfully under-stimulated, and deeply indulgent toward my own aggressive curiosity.
All that said, however, this is easily my favorite Hard Science book from the last 5 years. It's the first book I've actually purchased in 2022.
Again, though you might have to skim or skip a few chapters, I HIGHLY recommend it!