Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond

By Lydia Denworth



The phenomenon of friendship is universal and elemental. Friends, after all, are the family we choose. But what makes these bonds not just pleasant but essential, and how do they affect our bodies and our minds?

In Friendship, science journalist Lydia Denworth takes us in search of friendship's biological, psychological, and evolutionary foundations. She finds friendship to be as old as early life on the African savannas--when tribes of people grew large enough for individuals to seek fulfillment of their social needs outside their immediate families. Denworth sees this urge to connect reflected in primates, too, taking us to a monkey sanctuary in Puerto Rico and a baboon colony in Kenya to examine social bonds that offer insight into our own. She meets scientists at the frontiers of brain and genetics research and discovers that friendship is reflected in our brain waves, our genomes, and our cardiovascular and immune systems; its opposite, loneliness, can kill. At long last, social connection is recognized as critical to wellness and longevity.

With insight and warmth, Denworth weaves past and present, field biology and neuroscience, to show how our bodies and minds are designed for friendship across life stages, the processes by which healthy social bonds are developed and maintained, and how friendship is changing in the age of social media. Blending compelling science, storytelling, and a grand evolutionary perspective, Denworth delineates the essential role that cooperation and companionship play in creating human (and nonhuman) societies.

Friendship illuminates the vital aspects of friendship, both visible and invisible, and offers a refreshingly optimistic vision of human nature. It is a clarion call for putting positive relationships at the center of our lives.

Product Details

Price: $26.95  $24.26
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Published Date: January 28, 2020
Pages: 312
Dimensions: 6.1 X 1.1 X 9.1 inches | 1.1 pounds
ISBN: 9780393651546
BISAC Categories:

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About the Author

Lydia Denworth is a former Newsweek reporter and People bureau chief. Her writing on science, education, and other social issues has appeared in the New York Times, Redbook, Health, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and three sons.


The power of friendship--in many ways the most essential of our relationships--has long been underestimated. It's an absolute pleasure to see Lydia Denworth do it justice in this lovely, insightful, and important book.--Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Poison Squad
A sweeping, precise, and engaging narrative about our primordial capacity for friendship. If you care about what really matters in life, read this fantastic natural history of human friendship.--Nicholas A. Christakis, author of Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society
I can think of no better rebuke to today's success-obsessed brand of parenting than Denworth's clarion call for friendship. Her convincing narration of the science shows that for our kids to live happily ever after, and successfully too, we must let them spend many more afternoons with friends.--Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult
The science of friendship has grown remarkably rich in recent years, with scientists studying everything from the chemicals that create bonds in our brains to the friendships animals make for years on end. There's a deep evolutionary story to friendship now, and Lydia Denworth tells it in clear, lyrical prose.--Carl Zimmer, author of She Has Her Mother's Laugh
Friendship was once mocked as a naive notion, irrelevant in our species and nonexistent in others. In her lively, personable style, Lydia Denworth reviews what we know about the benefits of close relationships and their long evolutionary history--Frans de Waal, author of Mama's Last Hug
In addition to examining the scientific underpinnings of friendship, Denworth capably demonstrates how truly a health- and life-threatening condition, and there are things to be done to avoid it. Convincing evidence that evolution endowed us with a need for friends, support, comfort, stimulation, and, ultimately, happiness.
Critical and convincing... Denworth's work achieves the best of science writing by making complicated concepts clear. She uses intelligent observation, empathy, and curiosity to offer a friendship manifesto that will absolutely affect readers' own personal approaches to friendship.
[Denworth] has a solid command of the complex material before her and a seemingly effortless ability to make it not just digestible but engaging... [She] sticks to the science, calmly telling us the truth no matter what we need to hear. What else are friends for?--Daniel Akst
Accessible and enlightening...By highlighting the importance of human connection, Denworth has crafted a worthy call to action.--Barbara King