The Price of Altruism
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The Price of Altruism : George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness

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Survival of the fittest or survival of the nicest? Since the dawn of time man has contemplated the mystery of altruism, but it was Darwin who posed the question most starkly. From the selfless ant to the stinging bee to the man laying down his life for a stranger, evolution has yielded a goodness that in theory should never be. Set against the sweeping tale of 150 years of scientific attempts to explain kindness, The Price of Altruism tells for the first time the moving story of the eccentric American genius George Price (1922-1975), as he strives to answer evolution's greatest riddle. An original and penetrating picture of twentieth century thought, it is also a deeply personal journey. From the heights of the Manhattan Project to the inspired equation that explains altruism to the depths of homelessness and despair, Price's life embodies the paradoxes of Darwin's enigma. His tragic suicide in a squatter's flat, among the vagabonds to whom he gave all his possessions, provides the ultimate contemplation on the possibility of genuine benevolence.

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Product details

  • Hardback | 464 pages
  • 157.48 x 236.22 x 35.56mm | 771.1g
  • WW Norton & Co
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0393067785
  • 9780393067781
  • 427,331

Review quote

"Remarkable... fascinating." -- The Big Issue "Ever since Charles Darwin had published his theory of evolution in 1859, scientists had wondered whether it can explain the existence of altruism. Price wanted to describe mathematically how a genetic disposition to altruism could evolve. As Mr. Harman so vividly describes, Price ultimately became one of the vagabonds he set out to save." -- The Economist "Fascinating... Important... full of complex and deeply interesting ideas." -- Sam Leith - The Spectator "An intriguing history for serious students of the history of science." -- Kirkus Reviews "Brilliant... A great story." -- Brian Appleyard - Literary Review "[A] rich and vigorous survey of the controversy over altruism and its evolutionary role, stretching from the 19th century to now." -- Sunday Times [UK] "I stayed up a good part of the night reading... fascinating! ... Harman proves that the lives of some modern scientists are as ecstatic, tormented and filled with strange visions as those of medieval saints." -- Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind "This book is a stunning tour de force. The puzzle of altruism is revealed as it would be in a thriller, with twists and turns and surprises almost until the end." -- Noah Feldman, Bemis Professor of Law, Harvard University "Uncommonly brilliant and deeply stimulating... almost cinematically satisfying. Harman has a rare gift for bringing ideas and thinkers to life." -- Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic "A terrific book, at once scholarly and impossible to put down." -- Peter Godfrey-Smith, professor of philosophy at Harvard University "A brilliant biography of a brilliant man. A powerful page-turner that vividly renders the obsessive absorption with the poles of cooperation and competition in nature." -- Daniel Kevles, Stanley Woodward Professor of History at Yale University "In this remarkable book, Oren Harman tracks George Price, an awkward, disturbed, and profoundly, almost saintly scientist... It is an astonishing story at every level, from the destitute wanderings and genial interventions of Price to a revealing account of how modern evolutionary biology took its contemporary form." -- Peter Galison, Pellegrino University Professor of the History of Science and Physics, Harvard University

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About Oren Harman

Oren Harman, who has a doctorate from Oxford University, is the Chair of the Graduate Program in Science Technology and Society at Bar Ilan University and a professor of the history of science. He is the author of The Man Who Invented the Chromosome, a documentary film maker, and a frequent contributor to The New Republic. He lives in Tel Aviv and New York.

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