A science journalist who once took risks but now plays it safe explores what scientists know about risk-taking and why some people are risk takers and others are not.
Sukel (Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships, 2012, etc.) turns to research scientists for her investigations of risk-taking. Before reporting on some fascinating experiments being devised and carried out by neuroscientists and psychologists, the author takes readers on a tour of the human brain, naming and describing the parts of its decision-making system. For readers not familiar with this particular area of research, this portion may present a bit of a challenge. Sukel prefers abbreviations to technical terms, and readers may be forced to go flipping back through pages to discover what certain things stand for—e.g., DLPFC or 5-HTTLPR. Nonetheless, the author is a blithe and personable guide to risk-taking, sharing her own experiences and getting research scientists to open up about their findings. She also introduces some thoughtful and candid risk takers—e.g., a rock climber and outdoor adventurer, a Special Forces operator, a Wall Street trader–turned–professional poker player, and a neurosurgeon who calmly takes on extremely difficult cases in which patients’ lives are at stake. We learn how risk-taking is influenced by one’s genes, age, gender, and environment, how emotions, stress, and peer pressure play roles, and, perhaps most important, what one can do to become a better risk taker: preparing for contingencies, knowing oneself and what one wants from life, and recovering from failures. “Risk-taking is not about death-defying feats or million dollar investments,” writes the author. “It’s about exploring, adapting, focusing, and making predictions about future experiences…[it] is a critical part of learning and memory and being alive.”
Not an in-depth trip but an enjoyable tour.