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

The Price Of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness [Kindle Edition]

Oren Harman
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Product Description


Ever since Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution in 1859, scientists have 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.


A terrific book, at once scholarly and impossible to put down. --Peter Godfrey-Smith, professor of philosophy at Harvard University

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1604 KB
  • Print Length: 462 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0393339998
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (23 Nov 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004D4Y2AS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #131,808 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The anatomy of genius 10 Sep 2010
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Almost completely unknown outside of academia and then perhaps only within evolutionary biology, George Price was a quite simply a genius. This book demonstrates his genius but goes much further and demonstrates his failings as a husband, father and son. Not that Price was necessarily a bad man, just a hugely complicated human being. He possessed a Savant-like ability to research and develop very clear insights. He was also not constrained by feeling of indaquacey in any one discipline. If there was something he didn't know he would (and could) find out what he needed. The problem was that he would invariably lose interest or become sidetracked by something else. So although he trained as a Chemist he was able to invent computer aided design and manufacture and then fail to have the idea patented. He developed a theory for the role of glial cells in human vision while thinking about computer vision, but it stumped the Chief Physiologists of the day because it was too mathematical I suspect (this was before interdisciplinary working was an established practice). After being wounded in a botched operation Price wound up moving to London and making huge contributions to evolutionary biology and game theory, but this time he was recognised by pioneers in the field such as Maynard and it was these guys who supported him and it was University College London (UCL) that gave hime space and reources to continue with his work despite his (by now) wild appearance, sudden funmdamentalist religious conversion and his alcoholic tramp mates. Who would come looking for him in the University with resulting mayhem.

The story doesn't end well and Price was buried in an unmarked grave in London but his contributions are still being used and developed to this day.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Easy Reading, But It Can Be Rewarding 30 July 2010
By Stephanie De Pue TOP 1000 REVIEWER
In The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness, a history of science, particularly the science of evolution, professor and author Oren Harman combines an intellectual history of the search for the origins of altruism with the disturbing story of George Price, the brilliant and eccentric American genius whose insights into the evolution of groups redefined how scientists understand the origins of social behaviors. In common with many of the colorful characters that took a stab at Charles Darwin's great mystery, George Price was an outsider, an unusual and radical character; something about the problem tended to attract minds at the extreme. But if attempts to crack the enigma involve grand histories--Victorian liberalism and Russian anarchism, interwar fascism, Nazi heresies, Vietnam demonstrations, and the dramatic growth of cutting-edge neurogenetics and brain imaging--the story of George Price stands entirely on its own. He was a cross between Forest Gump and the Rain Man, with an uncanny knack of being present while much of the seminal science of the twentieth century was being born. From the Manhattan Project to the telecommunications and computer revolutions at Bell Labs and IBM, he solved problems, then disappeared. And finally, as his family and professional life began to unravel in the late 1960s, he left everything behind and moved to London, Swinging London as it then was, to try his hand at cracking one last great riddle.

Darwin, in his monumental
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I enjoyed this book. It was reasonably well written, not didactic but more like a detective story though rather more Chandleresque in its foggy denouement than a cleared up case for Sherlock Holmes. The story is of interpretations of Charles Darwins theory of evolution by natural selection and alongside this in alternate chapters a biography of one George Price who plays an important part in modern interpretations of evolution. The story begins at the end of the nineteenth century with the two opposing views of Darwin's theory. One interpretation advocates nature is red in tooth and claw, all is cruel and the selfish individual is the fittest of the so called survivors of natures struggle of existence. The other interpretation argues on the contrary that altruism exists in nature, that the individual in some cases sacrifices themselves for the group or that the individual helps the group with expectation of reciprocity. Well this started off a debate which is told in a somewhat garbled though entertaining way in this book. I say garbled but that just maybe because I found the writers style a little verbose and his explanations of the findings of various scientists curt. There is some humour in the telling and many diverting characters, anecdotes and interesting ideas put in the book too. George Price's life on the other hand is a fairly standard narrative and becomes somewhat detailed towards the end of the life and the book as if his work and the story of evolution and his life had some connection of motivation or cause and effect. But I couldn't find it. Read more ›
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Popular Highlights

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“Therefore combine—practice mutual aid! That is the surest means of giving to each other and to all the greatest safety, the best guarantee of existence and progress, bodily, intellectual, and moral.” &quote;
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“The social instincts,” he wrote in The Descent of Man, “which no doubt were acquired by man, as by the lower animals, for the good of the community, will from the first have given him some wish to aid his fellows, and some feeling of sympathy.”35 Evolution was the key to the beginnings of morality in humans. &quote;
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