'How to be Human' by Graham Lawton and Jeremy Webb (New Scientist)

How did we humans get to be who we are? In other words, what makes us tick? What sets human beings apart from other animals, and how is it possible for us to be so similar, yet individually so unique?

There are no definitive answers, yet the questions asked here are fascinating and the book shows in simple form how far science has come in grappling with them.

It examines human nature, the self, the body, your “deep” past, friends and relations, emotions, life stages, sex and gender, well-being and death.

Followed by a test: "How well do you know yourself?"

Every chapter holds many surprises: In the chapter on human nature the reader is suddenly faced with a double page asking - what are you like? You are given the opportunity to look at yourself from the perspective of the five broad traits which psychologists believe can describe the whole spectrum of individuality, namely: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

What’s the point of childhood - or middle age, for that matter? Why does art exist - has it a useful function? The authors suggest is may be a form of intellectual play, allowing us to explore new horizons in a safe environment. And are there really such things as gender differences - and why might that be? And how does it feel to be close to, or experiencing, death?

The book is clearly and simply laid out in an easy-to-access format. In the chapter on emotions, for example, some of the more fascinating human traits are listed up front: Why do we cry? Do our faces reveal our feelings (and how come)? Why is boredom positively stimulating, and that age-old conundrum, can money buy happiness? (the answer is an interesting yes, and no).

There are also neat, well-planned diagrams and illustrations to help clarify the more complex issues. In fact, it is a very good-looking book.

The chapter on life stages helps provide a better understanding of where one is in life. Although there is a sense of continuity within ourselves during our path through life, we do not always recognise the demands made upon us by the outside world nor the changes we undergo as we age.

Our extended childhood has intrigued researchers in the field for decades. Anthropologists believe that there must be an evolutionary advantage involved. Humans live very complicated lives: We have culture, language, technical skills. We participate in building cities and civilisations and, through our wits, we can survive in almost any environment from the freezing poles of the Earth, to the tropics. Yet we may never have considered even the most obvious questions such as: Where do I begin and end - is our sense of self an accurate one?

This is a fascinating, well-planned and stimulating book that will keep you absorbed for hours.