Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

ISBN: 0805073698
ISBN 13: 9780805073690
By: Robert M. Sapolsky

Check Price Now


Biology Currently Reading Medicine Neuroscience Non Fiction Nonfiction Psychology Science Self Help To Read

About this book

Renowned primatologist Robert Sapolsky offers a completely revised and updated edition of his most popular work, with nearly 90,000 copies in print Now in a third edition, Robert M. Sapolsky's acclaimed and successful Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers features new chapters on how stress affects sleep and addiction, as well as new insights into anxiety and personality disorder and the impact of spirituality on managing stress. As Sapolsky explains, most of us do not lie awake at night worrying about whether we have leprosy or malaria. Instead, the diseases we fear-and the ones that plague us now-are illnesses brought on by the slow accumulation of damage, such as heart disease and cancer. When we worry or experience stress, our body turns on the same physiological responses that an animal's does, but we do not resolve conflict in the same way-through fighting or fleeing. Over time, this activation of a stress response makes us literally sick. Combining cutting-edge research with a healthy dose of good humor and practical advice, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers explains how prolonged stress causes or intensifies a range of physical and mental afflictions, including depression, ulcers, colitis, heart disease, and more. It also provides essential guidance to controlling our stress responses. This new edition promises to be the most comprehensive and engaging one yet. Renowned primatologist Robert Sapolsky offers a completely revised and updated edition of his most popular work, with nearly 90,000 copies in print Now in a third edition, Robert M. Sapolsky's acclaimed and successful Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers features new chapters on how stress affects sleep and addiction, as well as new insights into anxiety and personality disorder and the impact of spirituality on managing stress.

Reader's Thoughts


Right, I finished it maybe a month and a half ago, and never got around to writing a review. I'm going to correct that since this book deserves one.The book starts out describing what stress is. In a nutshell, the body's stress-reponse is what the body does when there is a physical emergency (a lion, for the zebra). In this context the stress-response makes sense. Repairing damage, fighting diseases, digesting food, all of that can wait until the lion is no longer a threat. Then the response can stop, and all those activities put to the side can resume.Which doesn't happen when you live in an environment of chronic stressors.With this setup, the next few chapters go into the technical details of the stress-response. How it's activated, the role that important hormones play, and what changes occur in your body, and how your body goes from there back to its normal state. And when it doesn't, that's where the problems start.The book's has a peculiar style that I enjoy. It tackles a serious, unhappy subject with a light touch and fun to read prose. It's also littered with funny anecdotes that help to lighten the mood. But there are serious moments as well. The second to last chapter that examines poverty is the most powerful part of the book.If you've ever wondered about stress at all, this is an excellent place to start. It's detailed, fun to read and it makes you think.


Enlightening and full of humor. Complex pathways of stress mechanisms are untangled and presented in a simple yet captivating way.

Charles Gallagher

In Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, acclaimed biologist Robert Sapolsky combines humor and science to deliver fascinating information about stress and the many diseases caused by stress. As far as nonfiction goes, this was the most entertaining and informative book I have read. This book would be great for anyone interested in learning the science behind stress and it's effects on the body while enjoying themselves.


I encountered a link to a speech by Sapolsky on Pharyngula, I think, and was immediately engaged by his speaking style. His books, or this one at least, is similarly easy to get into, and manages to discuss topics of fair complexity in an incredibly approachable way. He's clearly aware that his book might be read by a wide range of audiences, and strives to provide something for everyone. I'll definitely be working my way through the rest of his catalog.The book is fascinating, too, although as he notes many times, thinking about and addressing stress is difficult, because trying to act to reduce stress can itself be stressful. As he elucidates what's currently known about the links between stress and disease, a lot of interesting things emerge, some of which are essentially throwaway trivia, like the idea that anti-depressant medication takes a while to work on people that are clinically depressed because of the physiological nature of depression; he doesn't really spell it out, but the obvious corollary is that is someone takes AD medication and instantly feels better, they're probably not actually depressed. This insight was immensely powerful to me in this over-prescribed age of ours.


some people might not be a fan of all the science of hormones and neurotransmitters, etc. etc.. so if you don't like having to check out the whys and whats of what the body does, this might be a bit irritating to read since there's a lot to slog through in that sense. having said that, i definitely found it to be quite interesting and a fun read. there's a good mix of humor through out the book. overall, i enjoyed it and i feel like i learned a fair bit. it didn't go into as much detail about some things (like depression and dealing with it, how stress reactions predict personalities, etc.) as i would have liked or even as much as i expected. granted, he could probably go on forever about the details of those subjects, so i digress. a fair amount of it could be seen as 'common sense', and i kinda feel like his coping methods are pretty logical and nothing that's revelatory or impressive in the sense of "hey, i should totally try that", but nonetheless, i enjoyed reading it and i do feel more knowledgeable for having done so.


Let's start with the title. Why don't zebras get ulcers? The answer is that zebras don't sweat the small stuff. When a lion comes to attack a zebra, its body stresses out to the max...salivary glands stop working (you don't need them), food processing and waste control shuts down (again, not required) and all bodily functions are maxed out to assist in one thing: Run like the wind. We humans possess the same capacity. Should you ever find yourself hunted by a lion, your body will probably react like a zebra's right up until your body is lion-feed. But here's the rub: We humans spend a lot of time being worried about less pressing things than outrunning lions (bills to pay, need to clean the house, have to get the kids to school on time, guests coming to dinner), but our bodies react in the only way they know how. And that reaction is a lower level form of the zebra's fight/flight physical response. That's not good. The fight/flight physiological experience is meant to last a few minutes, and come every once in a while, not run ad infinitum. So...zebras don't get ulcers because ulcers are born of the body's reaction to never-ending low level stress that zebras don't experience. Sapolsky examines more than ulcers and it's a fun read. His final chapter on how to help our bodies deal with the modern world contains most of the things you would guess (exercise is critical as is being a part of a community) but that doesn't diminish the chapters leading up to it. If you like this book, Sapolsky also has a class for free in the iTunes University store. I ran a string of two books in a row here on how human bodies are not well-adapted to modern times. Of the two, I would give this book the nod over Lieberman's The Story of the Human Body.

Melissa Hefferlin

I discovered this scientist on a National Geographic film about stress, Silent Killer or something like that. The film I highly recommend. So I sought out the books on the topic. For me, the material is a few clicks higher on the scientifically-detailed chart that I enjoy for recreational reading, but it is an excellent book. I enjoyed it in small chunks. It is highly informative, and displays the author's passion for the research. The effects of stress are truly fascinating, and current knowledge on the subject is presented here with passion and detail.


Sapolsky's primer on neuroendocrinology benefits greatly from a new edition in that the metaphors are more topical and a great deal of old theory has been validated by modern research, showing that psychological stress does indeed ultimately have a physiological component (organ stress due to wildly fluctuating hormone levels). The upshot is that we all need to find our own unique ways of coping with stress based on our personality types and numerous other factors in order to live long and healthy lives (the only seeming universal being that exercise not in excess seems to benefit everyone). Prior to the concluding chapters on these personal habits, Saplosky also notes the inequality in wealth as a tremendous factor in disease related to stress, asserting that humans have created their own stresses through religion and agriculture (a view I've also held all along), and ultimately advocating for social justice based on eradicating these inequalities.

Steven Vandenburg

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers explores stress and the physiological, psychological, and societal causes and implications of stress. Sapolsky paints a bleak picture of the impact of stress on the unborn and the young. Sapolsky suggests several methods for minimizing stress including such as: having outlets for frustration, a strong social support system, some degree of predictability, a flexible locus of control, and your perception of your place in your perceived hierarchy. Other factors Sapolsky discusses include sleep and socioeconomic status.One major takeaway I had from this book is the benefit of varied experiences and meeting various types of people to improve tolerance/understanding/empathy. Humans are hard wired (amygdala reacts to the flash of different persons face) to get aggressive/defensive with people whom are different. These reactions are a relic of the past when different looking people were likely to be part of a different group/tribe and thus a higher likelihood of violence or death during your interaction. We need to work to accelerate the reduction of this reaction by promoting travel, education, and experiences with a wide set of people.

Bob Klein

Sapolsky is an amazing writer and Primate's Memoir ranks as one of my favorite books. That said, the title, cover, and prior experience with Primate's Memoir led me to have unrealistic expectations of this book. It is thorough and well-written, but approaches the topic of stress from a phsyiological perspective that doesn't spare any of the details. As such, it often calmed my stress by putting me to sleep. The subtitle's promise of a section on "coping" with stress didn't pan out, and amounted to a few pages of an attempt at the end of the book. If you're looking for a tutorial on the physiology of stress and its relationship to a wide variety of human ailments and conditions (sickness, age, gender, etc.) then you might like this more than I did.

Nick Weeks

Well researched book. Sapolsky, who I am a big fan of, explains why certain types of stresses like long work days end up having more serious negative effects on your physiology than do other types of stress such as a lion chasing after you. Sure the lion stresses you out then and there but a week from now your bodily functions won't still be affected by it. My one beef with this book is that it doesn't give you much in the way of how to handle stress. I felt somewhat more stressed after reading reading this book because I finally had a good understanding of all of its negative effects but still didn't know what to do about it....


Robert Sapolsky is one of my favorite science writers. I generally find his work engaging, informative, and conversational, and “Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers” is no exception. This book is dense! It is jam packed with information on how your body reacts to and copes with stress. By the end of it, I found my self wondering if there was anything that glucocorticoids couldn't screw up. Though parts of it did drag a bit (for me), on the whole I found the chapters in this book to be interesting and full of useful information. I was a bit disappointed with the last chapter, however. I was hoping for more concrete suggestions on how to deal with and lessen stress. But perhaps that was an impractical expectation on my part. I would recommend this book to anyone who worries about what effect their stressful life might be having on their mind and body. This book will clearly lay out those effects in detail, and knowing what's going on (why you aren't sleeping, why you are gaining weight, for example) is the first step to stopping it.


Robert Sapolsky does a fantastic job of detailing every nuance of stress in relation to physiology. I will never look at a glucocorticoid the same way again. Although the text did get fairly complex at times, Sapolsky used real-life studies, examples, and metaphors to explain the more technical content. He also did a great job integrating the psychology of stress. In fact, the book was very balanced in regard to physiological and psychological interactions with the stress response and various "stress diseases." Finally, Sapolsky was able to wrap everything up with sound, realistic advice on stress management. Honestly, his summary provided all anyone really needs to know about stress reduction and prevention of diseases related to stress. Overall, the text was slow in some spots but the book was very enjoyable and educational.

Chris Herdt

This book is a good introduction to stress and its effects on physiology and psychology (Nicola's area of expertise). Although it is written for a lay audience, I often got the feeling it was written for a lay audience of primarily MDs.By the end of the book, you will feel like you and epinephrine, norepinephrine, and glucocorticoids are all old friends--but in spite of the terminology, it is really an easy read and full of good humor and interesting anecdotes (e.g. hyenas are very peculiar).Here is a quote, taken out of context, that I enjoyed:"Every child cannot grow up to be president; it turned out that merely by holding hands and singing folk songs we couldn't end all war, and hunger does not disappear just by visualizing a world without it....Would that it were so. And shame on those who would sell this view."You may not like all of his opinions. Sapolsky is an unapologetic atheist, but appears to have a high opinion of many religious people. He also speaks frankly about sex. He also believes in animal testing, although he thinks that some past tests went too far.


This is a pretty good book on stress, in animals as well as humans. I like his scientific style (though as with most academics, his prose style could be improved). He has a straight-forward way of presenting complex information without dumbing it down too much (I've been comparing it to an actual endocrinology textbook). The end of the book also provides a much-needed element of perspective on what it really means to be poor in America, discussing why universal health care won't make a huge difference to the health of the poor, for example.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *