The Tangled Wing

Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit

Nominated for the American Book Award in Science

The Tangled Wing is available for purchase at

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On The Tangled Wing…

“How wonderful to have a new Tangled Wing which incorporates the rich findings made in the last twenty years…the same graceful writing as in the original classic.Ernst Mayr

“The word ‘masterpiece’ almost never springs to mind about a work in biosocial science. It does about The Tangled Wing…It’s a remarkable accomplishment.” Lionel Tiger

“In the great tradition of Charles Darwin…Konner updates the argument for a biological basis of the human mind and spirit with force, clarity, and eloquence.” J. Allan Hobson

“…a magnificent synthesis…No one is better qualified than Melvin Konner to illuminate the complex workings of the human mind.” Aaron T. Beck

“If you read the breathtaking first edition of The Tangled Wing and were mesmerized, your pleasures have just begun…a vastly new account of our nature.” Michael Gazzaniga

“…the reader can turn to Konner as the sensible, sober and authoritative voice.” Martin Seligman

“… a breathtaking set of skills. I do not think anyone else could have put together this synthesis…He also has a rare command of language and knows how to tell a story.” Mark Ridley

“It is rare for a book by a scientist to be a page-turner, but Konner keeps the reader ever alert to his rare insights and profound understanding of our nature.” Paul Ekman

“This new edition of The Tangled Wing updates a seminal work…a superb book.” Thomas Insel

“In the upcoming postgenomic era, linking basic biology and behavior is likely to be the most important challenge of the life sciences…The Tangled Wing is the finest such effort I have seen…as gripping as a mystery novel.” Solomon Snyder

“…sure to be among the most important books published in the first decade of the new millennium.” Alice Rossi

“Konner’s general erudition, his combination of deeply moral and humanistic sensitivity with scientific rigor…provide a powerful and distinctive interpretation…a point of orientation for many in the coming decades.” James Gustafson

“Melvin Konner is the nearest thing we have to a poet laureate of behavioral biology. This is an indispensable book.” Robert Sapolsky

Of the first edition Ernst Mayr wrote, “A beautifully written, well-balanced interpretation of human nature…free of dogmatism and ideological commitment.”

From published reviews of Melvin Konner’s The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit (Holt, 1982; completely revised second edition, Holt, 2002):

On the 1982 edition:

“Mr. Konner scorns the arguments of hard-line hereditarians and environmentalists… [His] clear and graceful exposition never falters.” Peter Engel, The New York Times Book Review

“Lucid, appealing, well integrated…a thoroughly engaging adventure of ideas on the human condition…Melvin Konner has furnished us with rich materials for self-understanding and, what is more important, for speculation about the unfinished species to which we belong and have the obligation to sustain.” Norman Cousins, The Washington Post Book World

“[Konner] displays a commanding scholarship, in both width and depth, which is matched by a rare judiciousness and an unrelenting zeal for subtle nuances…[H]is achievement…is overwhelming. We will have to wait many years for a more accessible yet equally comprehensive synthesis…” Times Literary Supplement

The Tangled Wing joins the works of Loren Eiseley, Stephen Jay Gould, and a handful of other scientists on that elite shelf reserved for books that package their tricky technical messages in brightly ribboned prose…His graceful style allows those of us who aren’t professional scientists to link his message to our personal lives…” Harvard Magazine

The Tangled Wing is a thoughtful book. It is rich in data and documentation; it provides a clearly stated set of interpretations of the data, and does it all in a literate fashion.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology

“An excellent, readable book…Konner invokes sociology, anthropology, sociobiology, molecular biology, neurophysiology, and genetics as strands of the net that will eventually catch the explanations of why people act as they do.” ALA Booklist

On the 2002 edition:

“We need visionaries like Konner who can sift through and synthesize an ever growing compendium of scientific and cultural knowledge…Expertly researched and thorough in scope, The Tangled Wing is an extremely accessible survey of the scientific and sociological thinking on the subject of human behavior over the past half century.” Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)

“Konner has rewritten his magnum opus…The Tangled Wing provides a unique combination of encyclopedia and art, and in both areas it is exceptional. Of all such works it goes deepest into the body, and widest to the soul…Konner’s humane appeal for a workable social world that takes biology seriously is popular science at its lyrical best.” Richard Wrangham, Evolutionary Psychology

What a wonderful, unexpected gift—a second edition of Melvin Konner’s The Tangled Wing, appearing 20 years after the widely acclaimed, now classic first edition…[It] is an authoritative, sophisticated, highly readable survey of a vast amount of current knowledge and ideas about human nature…Konner weaves literature and philosophy into this fundamentally scientific story, in a manner that adds to the epic and poetic qualities of the book.” Peter Gray, Human Ethology Bulletin

The Tangled Wing reminds us that the community of biologically minded researchers in the social sciences should be thankful to have as one of their spokespeople someone with Konner’s fluid eloquence, surpassing breadth of knowledge, and unyielding courage.” Robert Kurzban, Evolution and Human Behavior

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