R. Douglas Fields: Why We Snap

Cover: Why We Snap

Cover: Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain by R. Douglas Fields


R. Douglas Fields, PhD
Dutton, January 12, 2016, $28
ISBN-10: 052595483X
ISBN-13: 978-0525954835

Fields reports:

Inspiration came in a flash. I was robbed. To my surprise, I reacted instantly by fighting back. I did get my wallet back in a violent struggle, but I was lucky. Had I thought about it, I never would have responded that way. Why did I do that, I wondered immediately afterward, and how?

Sudden aggressive behavior is familiar to everyone. If we experience road rage or smash a dish in anger, we are left baffled by witnessing our aggressive actions explode without conscious control. Sometimes we are stunned by regret. “I shouldn’t have said or done that.” Aggressive snap reaction is essential in dangerous professions and sports. It also is the neurocircuitry of heroism. “I didn’t think,” heroes utter in bewilderment, after having risked their life in an instant to rescue another person from sudden danger.

Douglas Fields

Douglas Fields

Exploring this process is central to my research in my day job as a neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health. My encounter with the robber would not have sparked a book, however, had I not attended the cocktail reception at the NASW annual meeting in New Haven in 2010. Screaming over the din of the crowded reception, I recounted my recent harrowing experience to science writer John Rennie. “That’s your next book,” Rennie exclaimed.

Starting to brainstorm from that moment, I scribbled notes that became the outline for this book on my entire train ride home. The ensuing four-year quest to flesh out the details led me not only into laboratories around the world to learn the latest neuroscience research on threat detection and sudden aggression, but also into the field. I met a wide range of extraordinary people, including race car drivers, secret service agents, members of SEAL team 6, elite athletes, relatives of the Boston Bombers, and members of religious groups who eschew violence and anger under any circumstance.

Had I shared a beer that night with someone else in that crowded room, this book might never have happened.

The Stuart Agency, which also sold my first book, The Other Brain, published in 2009, handled the sale. The book went to auction, and Dutton won the contract. I had a great editor at Dutton, Stephen Morrow.

Contact info:

• Douglas Fields: 301-480-3209, rdouglasfields@nasw.org
• Agent: Andrew Stuart, 212-586-2711, Andrew@stuartagency.com
• Publicist: Liza Cassity, 212-366-2554, Lcassity@prh.com
• Book website and blog: http://rdouglasfields.com

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