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The Moral Molecule: the new science of what makes us good or evil [Hardcover]

Paul J. Zak
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
RRP: 16.99
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Book Description

24 May 2012

Is morality universal? Why are men less faithful than women? Why do some businesses succeed while others collapse? If we have a natural impulse to empathise and care for each other, why are there psychopaths?

Neuroscientist and economist Paul Zak has spent 10 years researching to answer these questions and discover the chemical driver of our behaviour. His research has led him from a 'vampire' wedding in Devon to the jungle of Papua New Guinea and from the US military to a Buddhist monastory.

Detective story, adventure and scientific discovery rolled into one, The Moral Molecule is a brilliant read: compulsively entertaining and potentially life-changing.

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The Moral Molecule: the new science of what makes us good or evil + The Self Illusion: Why There is No 'You' Inside Your Head
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Press (24 May 2012)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0593067495
  • ISBN-13: 978-0593067499
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.6 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 382,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Paul Zak tells the remarkable story of how he discovered and explored the biochemistry of sympathy, love and trust with the narrative skill of a novelist. Philosophy, economics and biology have rarely been so entertaining" (Matt Ridley, author of "Genome")

"An ancient mammalian molecule prods us to bond with others. Paul Zak offers a most engaging account of this important discovery, bound to overthrow traditional thinking about human behavior, including economics and morality" (Frans de Waal, author of "The Age of Empathy")

"Paul Zak's investigations into the best things in life are inspired, rigorous, and tremendous fun. We need more daring economists like him" (Tyler Cowen, author of "The Great Stagnation" and "An Economist Gets Lunch")

"An engaging read" (BBC Focus)

Book Description

The Moral Molecule takes an entirely fresh scientific look at one of the biggest questions in life: are we born good or evil and exactly what drives the way we behave?

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good to trust 29 May 2012
By Hande Z
This book is about the hormone oxytocin (which is principally a female hormone but also present in the male). This hormone is the molecule referred to in the title of the book. "Am I actually saying that a single molecule...accounts for why some people give freely of themselves and others are coldhearted bastards, why some people cheat and steal and others you can trust with your life, why some husbands are more faithful than others, and, by the way, why some women tend to be more generous - and nicer - than men?" asks the author Paul Zak. "In a word, yes" he answers.

This molecule as Zak calls it, is a "feel good" hormone that increases when we do simple, feel good things like giving or receiving a hug, or when we give generously. The act of giving stimulates this hormone resulting in the recipient desiring to trust the giver. Zak explains that there is also a counter hormone ("testosterone") which he calls the "bad boy" hormone that increases the impulse to take risk and behave badly. However, testosterone is necessary for physical courage and strength. Thus, the mammalian animal evolved with these two hormones balancing each other and so many of the unusual behavior Zak says, can be attributed to an imbalance of those hormones.

From the general effects and the origin of this hormone in the evolutionary process, Zak discusses specific topics such as the effect of oxytocin deprivation in orphans. He also discusses the influence of oxytocin inclining people to religion. Zak believes, however, that religion serves a useful purpose regardless of whether God exists or not.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lot of hype, but still a good read 5 Sep 2012
By A Name
Unsurprisingly, because this book is written by a researcher it focuses almost entirely on his own research into oxytocin. As a result there has been criticism that the book presents its conclusions in a very black and white sense, when the reality is that oxytocin's effects are just part of a far more complex puzzle of why humans do what they do.

However with that in mind the book is very compelling and because Zak did not originally train as a biological scientist gives a good insight into how you would go about designing social experiments, which few popular science books manage to do well. He tells good stories well and gets his points across with flair. Other writers about neurobiology could really learn a lot from how he's written this book.

With the caveat that the hype around "oxytocin" is set to become this decade's "pheremone" obsession, it's still very worth the read. But be sure to put it in the bigger picture of human behaviour. The results Zak gets are interesting and his style is fun but we are nowhere near unlocking the secrets of society and morality quite yet.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "The Moral Molecule" 24 Dec 2012
By Werdna
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Well written explanation of a complex and unusual subject.
I may never view my fellow humans in the same way again
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Moral Molecule 18 Aug 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Fascinating and logical view of something which affects all of us. I have tried to contact the author in order to offer a further application for his conclusion, no reply as yet. The title could suggest that it is an academic book but it certainly isn't. The whole book was easy to read and understand.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it! 21 Sep 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you want to understand why you do what you do and the world does what it does, read this.

It is a scientific investigation into human motivation from a hormonal perspective. This may sound dry, but it is scientific, funny, anecdotal and charmingly written - enjoyable and compelling.

My favourite books are by: Malcolm Gladwell; Oliver Sachs and Marvin Minsky. These writers attempt to get to grips with human behaviour from a scientific perspective, and this book is a total complement to that scholarship.
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