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Bookshelf: Monkeys with iPhones

Language makes us human. Technology makes us crazy.

Games Primates Play

by Dario Maestripieri

Image: Book cover: Games Primates Play
The Gist: Strangers in an elevator will stand facing the doors, eyes glancing everywhere but at each other. Maestripieri, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, explains how such human behavior is directly connected to that of other primates. Even emailing and climbing the corporate ladder are rooted in hierarchies that existed pre-Homo sapiens. The elevator awkwardness? A simian response to the risk of attack by strangers in a confined space.

Read This If... You want to understand the parallels between all primate societies. Maestripieri illustrates that the behavior of Tony Soprano's family mirrors that of macaque monkeys and explains how to figure out celebrity breakups by studying the mating practices of apes.—Alison DeNisco

Language: The Cultural Tool

by Daniel L. Everett

Image: Book cover: Language The Cultural Tool
The Gist: How did 7,000 distinct human languages come to be? Everett, a linguist at Bentley University, argues against the popular theory that language is encoded in our genes. Drawing on philosophy, linguistic theory, and his years spent living in Amazonian villages, he makes the case that language is a man-made tool, not an innate instinct. Its variety reflects the array of cultures that have inhabited the earth.

Read This If... You want to learn about the connection between language and culture and understand why languages differ. Everett's explication of life deep in the jungle among the Pirahã people reveals a language that doesn't rely on basic concepts like numbers, past, and future. —Alison DeNisco


by Larry D. Rosen

Image: Book cover: iDisorder
The Gist: Does your iPhone always sit on the table beside you? Are you a victim of "phantom vibrations"? If your dependence on technology makes you ignore your wife and avoid your to-do list, you may have an "iDisorder," writes psychologist Larry Rosen. When tech obsession leads to symptoms that mirror those of ADHD, depression, and narcissistic personality disorder, it may require professional treatment. But Rosen's basic advice is simple: Step away from the machine.

Read This If... You want to feel better and worse. Your harmless Words with Friends addiction may seem minor next to the author's descriptions of severe social withdrawal and anxiety. But Rosen also has tips for "iDiagnoses" that are not quite as dire. —Becca Weinstein

Image: Illustration of brain and senses
Five Alive

Kick some sense into your body, one finger at a time.

A.J. Jacobs, Esquire's Editor at Large, thought his body was just "something to carry my brain around"—until he set out to transform himself into the healthiest physical specimen in the world. Drop Dead Healthy details his adventures following wellness fads from laughing clubs to caveman diets, but tricks will get you only so far. Jacobs' lifestyle changes began with a chocolate binge and a treadmill desk; you can start by bringing all five senses on board.

Image: Book cover: Drop Dead Health
HEAR Jacobs' three sons are "not at the quietest age," he says, noting that aural assault raises our heart rate and kicks off a flight response. Now he wears noise-cancelling headphones to block out the chaos.

SMELL Certain scents boost mood—if you can detect them. Jacobs, whose nose wasn't quite up to snuff, trained his nostrils to distinguish aromas by sniffing spices. Now he carries around sweet-smelling almond oil to relax.

TASTE "The radical pro-chewers are crazy," says Jacobs, but they did convince him to reform his "chewism." To savor taste and stay lean, Jacobs doubled his chomping from six times per bite to twelve or more.

SEE Working toward a health goal? Visual cues can help you stay on track. Jacobs kept a memento mori next to his desk as a reminder of how short life is. A digitally aged photo of himself offered another kick in the pants.

TOUCH Jacobs regularly exercises his digits and calls the hand the "unsung hero of the body." The science supporting finger lifts is scant, but "it's better than smoking cigarettes," he says. "It can't hurt, right?"—Mary Diduch