In Search of Human Nature Essay - Critical Essays

Carl N. Degler

In Search of Human Nature

During the last century, social scientists have oscillated between two very different explanations for the great differences in human behavior. In the wake of the work of Charles Darwin, scientists believed that differences in behavior were rooted in biological differences which were physically evident in racial and gender characteristics. During the first half of the twentieth century, the majority of the social scientists rejected biological explanations. Instead, they embraced cultural answers. During the last two decades, biological considerations have reentered the scientific discourse as a result of the research and ideas of ethologists and sociobiolgists.

IN SEARCH OF HUMAN NATURE is an excellent exposition of the changing positions of the scientists and provides context for their ideas, experiments, and conclusions. It successfully challenges earlier historical analyses on important points of interpretation. Degler’s explication of the work of anthropologist Franz Boas is a major contribution to scholarship. Unfortunately, Degler has also oversimplified the complexity of responses of the social science community to new ideas. In order to provide a fairly straightforward chronological account, he has downplayed differences among the social science disciplines on this issue.

Sources for Further Study

Choice. XXIX, September, 1991, p. 207.

Kirkus Reviews. LXIX, March 1, 1991, p. 295.

Library Journal. CXVI, June 1, 1991, p. 172.

Los Angeles Times. April 16, 1991, p. E5.

The New Leader. LXXIV, August 12, 1991, p. 15.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, March 17, 1991, p. 1.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, March 8, 1991, p. 60.

Science News. CXXXIX, June 1, 1991, p. 350.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, July 7, 1991, p. 12.

The Wilson Quarterly. XV, Summer, 1991, p. 98.