Books by Konrad Lorenz

Released: Nov. 30, 1995

Here is the long-delayed publication of the first summary of the principles of ethology, by the man most responsible for the growth of that science. Lorenz (Here Am I—Where Are You?, 1991, etc.) was confined in a Russian POW camp from 1944 to 1948, when he composed what he saw as the first volume of a textbook on comparative behavioral research. While the book remained unpublished, Lorenz reworked many of its ideas for publications on which his stature as the founder of ethology rests. The manuscript was lost in the early '60s, to be recovered only after the author's death in 1989. Now, 50 years after it was begun, it is in print, edited by von Cranach, Lorenz's daughter, and translated from the German by Martin (who worked with Lorenz on the English versions of several of his earlier books). In retrospect, it is easy to see that the ``Russian manuscript'' was a seminal work; only the most basic research had been done in the field that would eventually be called ethology. But its belated publication robs it of much of its impact; much of the material is now either familiar or dated. Lorenz spends half the book laying down fundamental principles: on the relationship of scientific and philosophical research, on scientific methodology, on the specific methods and assumptions of the biological sciences. Moreover, his arguments must be seen in the context of the intellectual climate of the 1940s; for example, his comments on evolution take the view that selection promotes the survival of the species, whereas today it is seen as primarily benefiting individuals. Lorenz is a vigorous writer— his style is full of exclamations and literary quotations. As a result, this work is consistently readable, even for the nonspecialist. A pioneering work in its field, now interesting primarily as a historical document and the first great work of an unusually literate scientist. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1991

Two years after his death comes the English translation of what one is tempted to describe as Lorenz's goose song, his last formal statement on his beloved greylag geese. A lifetime of observation—which led to the important concepts of critical times in development, of imprinting and innate releasing mechanisms, of ``vacuum activity'' (in the absence of the releasing mechanism), and of the many complex variations and recombinations of behavior patterns or ``ethograms''—is summed up here in detailed descriptions of individual geese as well as in theoretical constructs. Why greylags? Lorenz says it's because when he was a child he wanted to be an owl, but reading Selma Lagerlîf's tale of wild geese convinced him that geese had more fun. Soon followed his first experience with a duckling who became imprinted on him—an event that in retrospect, Lorenz says, led to him being imprinted on birds forever. For the most part, the book is a primer on the behavior of these most social creatures (an isolated greylag is a cripple) with all the titillating tales of pair-bonding and breaking, of ardor and jealousy and hate that make critics cry ``anthropomorphism.'' Lorenz makes no bones about it: For him, geese are analogues to human behavior—their triumph ceremonies, their lamentation cries, their distance calls, and other complex vocal and motor behavior exemplify a philogenetic convergence in evolution. Like humans, geese are aggressive, struggle for rank, show ardor, bravery, and vengeance, are ever-mindful of their fellow creatures and ready to react. It's all told here in the deeply personal terms characteristic of this ardent Austrian. Gooselovers of the world, unite; this is the book for you. Read full book review >