Professional Biographical Sketch: Melvin Konner, M.D, Ph.D.

Melvin (“Mel”) Konner is the author of The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit (Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1982, American Book Award nominee). A completely revised edition of The Tangled Wing was published by Holt/Times Books/W.H. Freeman in January, 2002.

His forthcoming book, Believers: Faith in Human Nature, will be published by Norton in Summer 2019. His last book was Women After All: Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy (Norton, 2015). Other books include Becoming a Doctor: A Journey of Initiation in Medical School (Viking/Elisabeth Sifton, 1987; front page review, New York Times Book Review; Georgia Author of the Year, Nonfiction, 1988); with S. Boyd Eaton and Marjorie Shostak, The Paleolithic Prescription: A Guide to Diet and Exercise and a Design for Living (Harper and Row, 1988; a pioneering book about the “Paleo” diet); Why the Reckless Survive, And Other Secrets of Human Nature (Viking Penguin, 1990);   Childhood, the book for a major nine-hour public television series on which he appeared (Little, Brown, 1991); Medicine at the Crossroads: The Crisis in Health Care (Pantheon, 1992), for a seven-hour WNET/BBC series; Dear America: A Concerned Doctor Wants You to Know the Truth About Health Reform (Addison-Wesley, 1993; advocating a single-payer system); Unsettled: An Anthropology of the Jews (Viking Penguin 2003); The Jewish Body, in the Nextbook/Schocken “Jewish Encounters” book series (2009); and The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind (Harvard University Press, 2010).

Konner was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Russell Sage Foundation from 2000 to 2010.  He has testified twice at U.S. Senate committee hearings relating to health care policy.

He was a regular contributor to the “Mind and Matter” column of The Wall Street Journal weekend Review section (every 4th week from November 2015 to July 2017). He published seven columns on The New York Times Op-Ed page, was a regular contributor to the “Body and Mind” column of The New York Times Magazine, and wrote the regular column “On Human Nature” for The Sciences, the prizewinning magazine of the New York Academy of Sciences. He has written for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The American Prospect, M.D., Psychology Today, Omni, Ms., and other newspapers and magazines, and has reviewed books for Science, Nature, Scientific American, The New York Review of Books and The New York Times Book Review. His scientific writings have appeared in Science, Nature, The New England Journal of Medicine, Child Development, Human Nature, and other journals.

He has been a fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Foundations’ Fund for Research in Psychiatry, and he received the American Anthropological Association’s Anthropology in Media Award for 2004. His distinguished lectures include the 15th Annual Raymond D. Pruitt Lecture, The Mayo Clinic and Mayo Medical School (1995), the McGovern Lecture in Medical Humanities, Yale University School of Medicine (1996), and the Abraham Flexner Lecture at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine (2009). He was named “Best Local Intellectual” in Creative Loafing’s annual “Best of Atlanta” edition for 2004.

He attended Brooklyn College (CUNY), holds Ph.D. and M.D. degrees from Harvard University, and is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Program in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology at Emory University. He spent two years among the !Kung San (Bushmen), and has taught at Harvard and then at Emory, for over 40 years. He teaches courses on human biology, human brain/behavior relations, biological approaches to childhood, human nature, medicine and society, and the anthropology of the Jews.

Konner was raised as an Orthodox Jew and, though he lost his faith at age 17, he is still keenly interested in Jewish culture and civilization. For more about this see his other website, “Jews and Others.”

He was married to Marjorie Shostak (May 11, 1945-October 6, 1996), author of the anthropological classic Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman and the mother of their three children, Susanna, Adam, and Sarah, now grown. He was a single father for a decade and has two grandchildren, among other rewards. His wife’s eight years with cancer stimulated an interest in that disease and in the psychology of terminal illness. He is remarried to Ann Cale Kruger, Ph.D. (a developmental psychologist), who added a third daughter, Logan Kruger, to their blended family, and has found happiness again after much suffering.

Curriculum Vitae


  1. Patrick Feeney says:

    Hi Professor Konner:
    I read your article in the Wall Street Journal regarding “A Better World, Ruled by Women.” Your conclusion seemed not to correspond with the life of Catherine the Great of Russia. During her reign, she pursued very aggressive wars against the Ottoman Empire, Sweden, Prussia, Poland, and the British. When her favorite general Potemkin wavered in the war in Crimea, she insisted that he buck-up and fight on regardless of consequences. She sent her most fearless general Suvorov against the Turk’s in the battle of Ismail resulting in the slaughter of 40,000 men. Didn’t she have the same chromosomes and brain circuits as women do today?

    • Mel says:

      Yes, but she was sitting on top of an exclusively male pyramid of power and like most other queens and empresses of history, had to play a male game. My predictions for the future are statistical, and are about what might happen if a large part of the pyramid became female over many generations.

  2. Jocelyn P. Morris says:

    I started not to buy you book when I saw it at Barnes & Noble because I told a MAN could not honestly handle this topic correctly. You surprised me and I have known about this topic all my life but never saw it in print before. Thank you for writing it! Next you need to focus on Sexual abuse and the prison pipeline for girls!

  3. Wm. J. Levy says:

    I was hoping to send this more privately but have been unable to find your email address.

    I read your column today and it made me think of all the people I knew who died from Cancer including my own mother.

    I lived in Israel for 12 years and while there I was told the story about this Jewish scientist in Hungary who discovered a cure for Cancer in 1944. I don’t know how many Cancers it worked on but he and his family were murdered by the Nazis.

    I don’t know what happened to his lb but around 1946-1947 some of his Christian lab workers told the Americans about this discovery.

    I don’t know how it came to Israel but I understand the Weizmann Institute has been pursuing it till now.

    • Mel says:

      Dear Mr. Levy, sorry for the delay in answering. Untold great discoveries and uncreated works of art were strangled in infancy by the Nazis as they murdered six million Jews and five million other innocents. Who knows what we lost? The Weizmann Institute is doing great things toward curing cancer and other diseases. Imagine if it were twice the size it is now, with the lost talent of the Holocaust added all these years. You may be interested in my other website, Thanks for writing. Mel

  4. Diane Worth says:

    I am interested in further information regarding treating tremors with ultrasound. Who is doing the procedure? Who is doing the research? If you could please email me any further information I would appreciate it.
    Thank you.

  5. Hey Doctor Konner,
    I am wondering if you did a residency after Harvard Medical School? Do you still practice medicine, or are you mainly academic? You are quoted by Natalie Robins in her book about the Libby Zion Case. This is a topic of great interest to me on multiple levels.

    • Mel says:

      Thanks Doctor Lieberman, and please forgive the long delay. I went back into academia after medical school without doing a residency, which I regret to some extent. The Libby Zion case is important and sad. Bad luck for Cornell that her dad was a lawyer and an NY Times reporter. As you know it led to The Bell Commission limiting house officer responsibility and hours. Bertram Bell once told me that my book Becoming a Doctor, about the clinical years of medical school, including some rotations I did in Atlanta, influenced his thinking about his work on the commission. Something I’m proud of, BUT: as you probably also know, there are good arguments for Osler’s “live on the wards” advice (fairly set out in my book I think), and recent research has not strongly confirmed the idea that long hours worsen performance. Thanks again for writing, Mel

  6. Wendy Haisma says:

    Dear Mr. Konner
    I have only just started to discover your work and I am intrigued by it. I train care professionals (pediatric physiotherapists and neonatal nurses mainly) in the use of babycarriers, our course is science based. To write the course reader I started doing more research and along the way your name came up more and more often. At the moment I am reading some of your articles on hunter-gatherers. There is so much to read about close proximity between mother and child, and the effect on the child’s wellbeing and motor skills that I hardly know where to start! Thank you for your work.

    Best wishes,

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