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The Price Of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness Hardcover – 6 May 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head (6 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847920624
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847920621
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 4.1 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 280,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"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)

"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)

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

"Beautifully written, Harman's book does justice both to its sensitive subject matter and to the life of a very special, complex and ultimately tragic man." (Waterstone's Books Quarterly)

"A masterfully told story that edifies while it engages, this book is in the same class as Sylvia Nasar's A Beautiful Mind and could be as popular." (American Library Journal)

Book Description

The completely compelling biography of a remarkable man, and his search for the origins of kindness.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Edric_the_Destroyer on 10 Sept. 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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By history fan on 5 July 2011
Format: Paperback
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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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie De Pue TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 30 July 2010
Format: Hardcover
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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