This short and concise book is a result of a New York Academy of Sciences project charged with disseminating recent advances in science to the public. It is about endorphins, the endogenous opioid peptides whose discovery followed close on the heels of the demonstration of mammalian opiate receptors in the early to middle 1970s. The author's premise is that endorphins provide man with the specifically human qualities of creativity, love, and other behaviors "that have gradually freed the human species from the constraints of its biological evolution" (p ix).
Part I, "The Endorphin Story," includes informative chapters on the ancient history of opium use by the Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and Arabs. The more recent history of opium and semisynthetic and synthetic opiate use in England, China, and America is also detailed. The evolution of the mammalian brain is then described, with particular reference to MacLean's theory of the "triune brain,"