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The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit Paperback – February 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Revised edition (February 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805072799
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805072792
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #242,395 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"How wonderful to have a new Tangled Wing which incorporates the rich findings made in the last twenty years in the fields of evolutionary and behavioral biology. We find the same graceful writing as in the original classic and the same facility to clarify complex issues and to come to stimulating conclusions."--Ernst Mayr, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University

From the Inside Flap

"The evolutionary analysis of human behavior has sometimes been referred to as the 'moral equivalent of fast food.' This is why over the years I have returned again and again to the writing of Mel Konner, for a gourmet's account, nourishing the senses and the soul as well as the intellect. — Sarah B. Hrdy, U. C. at Davis, and author of MOTHER NATURE: MATERNAL INSTINCTS AND HOW THEY SHAPE THE HUMAN SPECIES

"How wonderful to have a new TANGLED WING which incorporates the rich findings made in the last twenty years in the fields of evolutionary and behavioral biology. We find the same graceful writing as in the original classic and the same facility to clarify complex issues and to come to stimulating conclusions. — Ernst Mayr, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University

"Indecently elegant—a beautifully written book by any standard—and it's about language, love, lust, learning and all the rest of our apes-and-beyond nature…. Every behavioral biology topic reflects the enlightenment of the past two decades since this classic book first appeared." — William H. Calvin, author of THE CEREBRAL CODE, co-author of LINGUA EX MACHINA and CONVERSATIONS WITH NEIL'S BRAIN

"The word 'masterpiece' almost never springs to mind about a work in biosocial science. It does about THE TANGLED WING. This is a jewel of virtuoso scholarship written with lustrous and punctilious warmth. It's a remarkable accomplishment." — Lionel Tiger, Charles Darwin Professor of Anthropology, Rutgers University, author of THE DECLINE OF MALES

"Melvin Konner is. . . the nearest we have to a poet laureate of behavioral biology. This is an indispensable book." — Robert Sapolsky, Stanford University, author of WHY ZEBRAS DON'T GET ULCERS and THE TROUBLE WITH TESTOSTERONE

"The Tangled Wing is a magnificent synthesis of the latest knowledge of biology, psychology, and anthropology. No one is better qualified than Melvin Konner to illuminate the complex workings of the mind. This volume should be on the bookshelf of anyone interested in human nature - - and who is not. " — Aaron T. Beck, M.D., University Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania

"Mel Konner has a breath-taking set of skills. I do not think anyone else could have put together this synthesis, ranging from rigorous medicine, to cutting-edge psychology, to some funky field anthropology. He also has a rare command of language and knows how to tell a story. THE TANGLED WING is heavy-weight scholarship, rendered in an attractive and readable style." — Mark Ridley, Professor of Zoology, Oxford University, author of MENDEL'S DEMON

"Mel Konner has taken on the most fundamental question-what is our nature?-and provided a beautifully written, original account, as broad as it is deep. 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. Konner joins Lewis, Gould, and Pinker-a scientist who can write, who teaches us without realizing we are being taught. — Paul Ekman, Professor of Psychology, U. of California, San Francisco

This new edition of THE TANGLED WING updates and expands a seminal work on human nature. Mel Konner is a gifted synthesizer and a great teacher. . . Whether describing studies of single gene mutations or hunter-gatherer societies, he tells us not only what is known but what is not yet known and what may not be knowable. With clarity, insight, and, at times, poetry, he simultaneously explores and demonstrates the wonders of human nature. This is a superb book. — Thomas Insel, M.D., Director, Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Emory University

If you read the breathtaking first edition of THE TANGLED WING and were mesmerized, your pleasures have just begun. Now Konner does it again, with a vastly new account of our nature. Each sentence is a pleasure to read, and the powerful points he makes about the human condition can leave one sleepless. — Michael Gazzaniga, David T. McLaughlin Distinguished Professor, Director, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Dartmouth College

In the great tradition of Charles Darwin and Thomas Henry Huxley, Konner updates the argument for a biological basis of the human mind and spirit with force , clarity and eloquence. — J. Allan Hobson, Director of the Laboratory of Neurophysiology, Harvard Medical School, author of CONSCIOUSNESS

In the upcoming postgenomic era, linking basic biology and behavior is likely to be the most important challenge of the life sciences, demanding an ability to move with poetic creativity yet with rigor from the humanities to molecules. THE TANGLED WING is the finest such effort I have seen. Konner has penetrating insight into hitherto unappreciated difficulties of Darwinian and Skinnerian approaches to sociobiology. He comes up with novel, creative formulations. All of this in a volume that is as gripping as a mystery novel. — Solomon H. Snyder, M.D., Director, Department of Neuroscience, School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins U.

". . .it is rare to find an author with a depth of knowledge in both the biological and social sciences, combined with superb writing skills sufficient to provide readers with a breathtaking new understanding of human behavior. Mel Konner did that twenty years ago in the first edition of THE TANGLED WING. The updated and revised edition of this book is an even greater achievement . . . . THE TANGLED WING is sure to be among the most important books published in the first decade of the new millennium. — Alice S. Rossi, Harriet Martineau Professor Emeritas of Sociology, University of Massachusetts (Amherst)

Anyone, scholar or general reader, who is seriously interested in the human ought to engage this thorough revision of THE TANGLED WING. Konner's general erudition, his comprehensive research, his combination of deeply moral and humanistic sensitivity with scientific rigor, his wonderful prose, his critical analytical prowess, but most important his brilliant synthetic capacities provide a powerful and distinctive interpretation. This new version will, like the first, become a point of orientation for many persons in the coming decades. — James M. Gustafson, Former Henry R. Luce Professor of Humanities and Comparative Studies, Emory University. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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Although somewhat repetative at times, this book is, overall, enlightening.
"jkp85"
Most of the book explores, as the subtitle suggests, the ways in which biology sets directions and limits for our behavior.
Marti Steussy
Anyone interested in not only neuroscience, but how people are and why they are that way should read this book.
michelle34

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Gordon C. McCarter on August 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
I don't know how I managed to miss this one for so long (there was an earlier edition from the 1980's; this one is completely updated). Konner is a physician and anthropologist. He wrote this as an attempt "to show what an integration (of evolutionary psychology into the whole of social and behavioral sciences) might look like." It consists of an in-depth survey of the literature on the "science of human nature," and research into the biology of human "frailties" such as fear, lust, and love. He provides a very useful perspective as a cultural (?) anthropologist with great knowledge of the hunter-gatherer way of life and an understanding of the varieties of cultural expression. He frequently waxes poetic and uses substantial references to literature and the arts, of which I sometimes missed the point and which was prone to cause me to become distracted from the primary narrative as well. But give him credit for trying. Also, many chapters seemed to have no internal structure and felt like a random list of findings relevant to a subject. But I was extremely impressed with the impeccable referencing (accessed online), especially his personal recommendations for further reading.

What piqued me the most was his conclusion and final...tirade? His penultimate chapter starts with a tour of the dazzling new world created by the sequencing of the human genome but suddenly veers into a thorough and absolutely fact-based litany of why we are headed toward a Malthusian disaster if business continues as usual. He even updates Barrington Moore, Jr.'s targeting of "the attractive upper middle class mother, driving a station wagon full of happy sunburned children" (now it's an SUV and the kids are sunscreened) as the ultimate culprit in causing human misery.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Peter Flom on November 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
If you read only one book about human behavior, this should be it. If you read many books about human behavior, this should be one of them. Prof. Konner is wise, he is erudite, he is literate, and he is humane. Rather than take one-sided positions or air only politically correct view, Konner synthesizes a huge amount of information and comes to sensible conclusions. I cannot recommend this book highly enough
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By W. Cheung on September 12, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a long thick book. The main text is close to 500 pages. Reading it is not easy. I find it necessary to make serious attempts to stay focussed in reading the book. At times it can be repetitive. But if you are lucky enough to read it through back to back, the gain will be immense.

The plan of the book is as follows:

An introduction warns the reader not to romanticize exotic cultures.

Part 1 (Ch. 1 to 8) explains clearly that at least the foundation or scaffolding of our behaviors are determined by our genes. BUT at the same time, genetically related wirings of the brain CAN be modified by the environment. In this part of the book some basic neurology related to human behavior is discussed.

Part 2 (Ch. 9 to 15) explores basic human emotions, urges and behaviors. The psychology, neurology and biochemistry are all discussed. I am a practising physician, and I am most rewarded by the chapter on "Gluttony". I now know why my patients have difficulties in losing weight. I am surprised that I was not taught about all these in medical school! These chapters can at times read tedious but as I have said they are very rewarding indeed.

Part 3 (Ch. 16 and 17) reminds the reader (even though grounds have been covered throughout the earlier chapters) that in spite of the importance of genes in influencing over behavior, NURTURE is also important. The author somehow seems to change the focus of the book and speculates upon the future of human beings and whether we are still able to save ourselves from self-destruction through follies.

Part 4 (Ch. 18) gets even further away from the earlier chapters. It is very moving.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By "jkp85" on September 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
Although somewhat repetative at times, this book is, overall, enlightening. Evidence from a broad range of scientific disciplines is displayed clearly, and the relationships and connections between subjects are elegantly exposed. This leaves the reader with a feeling that the basis for the ideas presented is solid and tangible, making the book all the more immersive. Exposition of some lesser-known studies which never the less have incited serious scientic revalations is perhaps this book's strongest point. This book serves as a jumping-off point for many avenues of thought, and is highly recommended to anyone who seeks to further their understanding of human intellegence, social behavior, and consciousness.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Adam D. Shomsky on March 4, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Melvin Konner's The Tangled Wing is a shining example of the way science is done. The depth of scholarship is truly inspiring - Konner remarked that there were originally two hundred pages of notes, "the meticulous preparation of which added at least a year to the project" (they were published online to keep the cost of the book down). Warning: after reading this book, the methodology of other authors might seem pathetically underwhelming by comparison. The next two books I read as part of my master's degree in engineering management seemed ludicrously speculative by comparison, with poor or nonexistent empirical support. A joke, in short, made all the more laughable due to the stark contrast with the depth of scholarship displayed in The Tangled Wing.

Scientific authors often have to trade off between popular appeal of their books and usefulness to the academic community. Konner settled that compromise more on the academic side, but I wouldn't say this book is wholly inaccessible to those outside the academic community (my education is in engineering, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it). If you don't mind wading through a little jargon about neurotransmitters and brain regions, there are plenty of fascinating gems to be discovered. And laymen might be just as impressed by the methodology of a real scientist as they are by the discoveries garnered thereby.

There is a chapter about weight regulation titled 'Gluttony' that I found particularly interesting. This is a deceptively complex topic that is subject to much pseudoscience and uninformed opinion, so it is refreshing to see the bright light of science shone upon it.
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