Home Writers Conversation Transcripts Videos Notes On Writing Sponsoring Programs

CLICK HERE to see the transcript of Robert Sapolsky's How I Write Conversation.

CLICK HERE to see streaming video of this event.

You will need RealPlayer 8.0 or later.

Robert Sapolsky
Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences

Robert Sapolsky is one of the leading neuroscientists in the world, a research associate with the Institute of Primate Research Museums of Kenya, and a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. At the same time, he has been called "one of the best scientist-writers of our time" by Oliver Sacks and "one of the finest natural history writers around" by The New York Times. Prof. Sapolsky has produced, in addition to numerous scientific papers, books for broader audiences, including A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: Stress Disease and Coping, and The Trouble with Testosterone.


Robert Sapolsky developed his writing skills doing field work in Africa. He was lonely. There was no radio or any other company, and “as a result you wind up sending letters to every human that you have known in your life in hopes that they would write back to you.” Some would, he would write numerous letters, often saying the same things but each time getting more concise. Today he likes to write with his laptop on the train commuting between San Francisco and Stanford – it’s “amazingly addictive” – which limits his writing to two hours a day. Sapolsky has to be careful: there’s the writing for his research, serious writing about neurological issues, often based on his research with primates; but then there’s the writing he’s gotten famous for, his essays in The New Yorker and other magazines and books on scientific issues written with broader audiences in mind. He points out that those scientists who write too much for popular audiences become “Saganized” (after Carl Sagan): they begin to loose credibility in the scientific community. And yet he has been called one of the top science writers in the country. In this talk, he reveals how he generates his ideas for articles – Who could imagine that People magazine could be such a vital tool? He discusses how he shapes his fascinations and anxieties into stories, how he talks it through with his wife and others, how he fashions books on a grander scale. He takes his writing very seriously – but above all it is a pleasure, something that he enjoys doing, and he allows us to visit the source of that fun.

Wednesday, April 9, 2003, noon
Terrace Room, Fourth floor of Margaret Jacks Hall (Bldg. 460)