KONRAD LORENZ: A Biography by Alee Nisbett
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A showman, strong-minded, paternalistic, ready to extrapolate on a grand scale from his unique observations of the small. . .this is the portrait of Konrad Lorenz that emerges in Alec Nisbett's sympathetic but objective biography of the ""father of ethology."" It has the virtue of sticking to the facts of the Nobel Laureate's life. as well as discussing the ideas of precursors, contemporaries, and critics. No doubt about it: Lorenz is controversial, a holist going against the reductionist grain, a pessimist worried about the generation gap, genetic decay, human aggression. Yet there is humor, an amazing unsentimentality along with the love of animals, and an urge to press on with the work of ethology as well as that of epistemology. Nisbett, a mathematical physicist and documentary writer for BBC television, sketches--without rubbing in--the psychohistorical elements of Lorenz' life: the dominating surgeon father who built a small fortune on the treatment of an heiress to the Armour meat-packing dynasty, Lorenz' doctor wife who shared his passion for collecting and observing animals from early childhood, the war years with the foolish 1940 essay avowing the need for healthy stock and superior individuals, capture by the Russians, and return to an uncertain career. Eventually Lorenz was able to establish intitutes of animal behavior in Germany and Austria, and now divides his time between the outlandish house designed by his father in Altenberg and an institute in Grunau, Austria. Nisbett is gentle but fair in discussing the Nazi issue and Lorenz' more recent pronouncements about the decline of civilization. He points out that Lorenz himself admits he's conjecturing (he simply believes he's right). As an introduction to the central ideas of a new science winding up its descriptive phase, this look at the life and work of a progenitor is exemplary.

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 1976
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich