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VINE VOICEon 29 September 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
My main reason for reading this was to find out more about Hamilton's scientific achievements, which are well-covered, and clearly explained. Anyone interested in his life, however, should look elsewhere. The author insists on linking almost every incident with Hamilton's scientific achievement - often to ridiculous effect, such as stating that his decision to use the university library to pursue his own interests was somehow revolutionary. His childhood seems to have been nothing but a constant demonstration of wonders to come. We also find laziness here, such as the 'speculation' about the 19th century practice of crossing lines in a letter; I gained the impression that reality doesn't exist outside the scientific world for this author, and the commonplace is always to be regarded with prescient wonder. Forget the man's life, just use this book for an account of the man's scientific work. The general reader is likely to feel cheated.
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VINE VOICEon 28 November 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I read this book and learnt more about this man who apparently contributed to our understanding of evolutionary biology. Apparently revered by his students and much less known to people outside his field, the author goes on to briefly describe the various directions Hamilton took early on and then focuses mainly on his achievements pre WWII. There is a lot of admiration for even the simple things. That said, clarity of thought that led him to many of the developments credited to him should not be underestimated.

I am slightly amazed at the slight laxity that crept into certain scientific methods as gushingly described by the author. It was at these points that I felt that this was not a biography but a homage. I would certainly be wary of giving this to a Biology student for inspirational reading until they were well grounded in scientific method. I think the balanced reader would look in askance at how Mr Hamilton seemingly could do no wrong by the author.
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VINE VOICEon 11 December 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As a subject for biography, W. D. Hamilton deserves much attention. A preeminent scientist in the increasingly popular subject of evolutionary biology, Bill Hamilton, despite some media popularity, could overall be described as the scientists scientist: sadly this can to some extent relegate this book to the shelf of the specialist. This is truly sad as the author has crafted a very readable tale, which whilst at times means that possibly somewhat speculative connections between early life events and later scientific realisation are crafted, nonetheless encourages the reader to stay with the story; it is in some senses a page turner, and as such stands at least a fighting chance of encouraging interest in science at a time when the UK has slowed in academic scientific achievement. As a nation we need more heroes of science such as Hamilton to act as role models for the young at a time when they can still be inspired. Perhaps the greatest sadness is that this could not have been penned as an autobiography, but I have a sense that if Hamilton were alive that book would never have been written. Taken with the major contribution of Hamilton himself, the author has given great service to those of us would dearly loved to have met the great yet modest man that was Bill Hamilton.
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VINE VOICEon 10 September 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm really pleased I ordered this book. It's really fascinating to find out about one of the lesser known scientists of the last century. Biology tends to be dominated by a handfull of names so it's only fair that Hamilton's work should be brought more to the fore. It seems incredible that this is the first biography about one of the last century's leading thinkers on evolutionary biology. Everyone's heard of Richard Dawkins but not of Bill Hamilton. So well done to the author Ullica Segerstrale. The man was something of an academic maverick which probably explains his low profile outside the academic community. The extent to which his ideas were consistently credible? Well, I'll leave that to the better qualified to address. But overall this was an enjoyable and stimulating read. Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 20 November 2013
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WD Hamilton who died in the year 2000, is regarded by many as a twentieth century Darwin. A revolutionary biologist whose research and academic papers brought the discipline into the modern age.
Author, Ullica Segerstrale is Professor of Sociology at Illinois Institute of Technology and she has brought together the often complex personality of her subject and his scientific research in one comprehensive work which puts the man and his impressive volume of work in a historical context.
Often referenced by fellow maverick thinkers including our Professor Dawkins, Nature's Oracle brings out the genius of WD Hamilton and puts his name back at the forefront of great scientific thinkers,where he deserves to be.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Little scientific knowledge has a single focal point of origin but in the general soup of understanding certain names get linked. Crick and Watson 'are' DNA and the contributions of Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin are all but forgotten within popular culture. Richard Dawkins is long famed for the idea that evolution is about the survival of the gene rather than the species but he did not claim the idea and credited Hamilton, a name scarcely heard outside academia, as the progenitor of much of the thinking which was developed in 'the Selfish Gene'.

Hamilton was unhappy at not being acknowledged but this resentment was not at the lack of popular recognition but the sense that the Establishment shunned his contribution. Those in life sciences research who have discovered that academia is not a meritocracy will empathise with Hamilton's difficulty in fitting in to an environment where whether one's face fits is more important than your ideas.

This book isn't intended to set out Hamilton's ideas and because his canon is exclusively to be found in academic journals you would need to look to Dawkins (the Selfish Gene) and Ridley (the Red Queen) for a lay exposition of the ideas he propounded. Ullica's biography does describe his contribution to science but it aims to tell a story at other levels - the challenge of carving a career in science, his difficulties with the scientific establishment and, at the very basic level, how difficult it can be at times to be a human being.

At times she forgets her audience and casually bandies terms that even had the Zoologist in this house stumbling. To me this suggests that Ullica could do with loosening her academic rigour a touch - the glossary is useful but I am not sure that a book presumably intended for popular reading requires 40 pages of citation notes. Instead, more time could have been spent reviewing the flow of the book, which seemed to leave much of the illuminating observation until towards the end.

These are minor criticisms which do little to overshadow the effective telling of a life that was extraordinary and yet which many might be able to identify with in terms of the experience of being human.
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VINE VOICEon 31 March 2016
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The most important thing to note is that this "The Life and Work..." book really only covers Bill Hamilton's work - very little of his personal life is covered in the same detail and I would personally not buy this if you're after a biography. If you want to read about his work, then it's a very good book indeed, if rather irksome in places. By this I'm referring to the author's practice of taking literally everything Hamilton every did and turning it into some revolutionary feet that no one else could ever have thought to do - to a point that it's almost parodying itself.

The author puts Hamilton on a pedestal (as many biologists do) and even when talking about things he didn't do well or did badly, it's turned into some kind of an achievement. As a biologist myself - and I would say that all biologists are inherently evolutionary biologists as everything we discover is another piece in the jigsaw of evolutionary understand - and I found it irksome both how Hamilton was portrayed as a higher being that was copper-bottomed and could do no wrong etc - he certainly wasn't squeaky clean, perfect or a higher being. He was a hard-working, respected and well-published academic who was rightly lauded for his work - but then so are others. In a field in which genius abounds, it is hard to put anyone above the rest.
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on 14 November 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
W.D. Hamilton contributed so much to his chosen scientific field - evolutionary biology - during the 20th century, yet prior to reading this book I'd never even consciously heard of him. Not even a cursory acknowledgement of his achievements in popular science books. Had you?

As a supporter of evolutionary theory, his lifetime's work has become much admired by the likes of Richard Dawkins. Dawkins has written some superb science popularisations, but has not achieved the greatness as a scientist of the much lesser-known man. Different times, I suppose - although Dawkins is a much greater attention-seeker (think honey and airports) than the sightly odd, self-effacing Hamilton ever was.

Author, Professor Ullica Segerstrale, goes into enormous detail concerning his working methods and how his sometimes lazy attitude was formed. However, she sometimes displays a gosh-wowery attitude at his sometimes relatively ordinary behaviour, presenting it as being unique.

Nevertheless, I'm very glad to have been introduced to the work of this titan by the fabulously well-qualified, and intelligent, Ms Segerstrale.
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on 8 February 2013
This is a must-read volume for all biologists and historians of science as well as offering real insights into the burden and pain of true genius. Here is the story of a gentle naturalist whose insights into social evolution - from bark beetles to humans - are supremely logical, cold and, to aesthetes and the anthropocentric, often disturbing. Hamilton challenged scientific and social orthodoxy and, as such often went head to head with the establishment. Yet that establishment, at least the scientific part of it, eventually recognised him for what he was - the most insightful 'darwinist since Darwin. Before his untimely death in 2003 he had been loaded with all the accolades his discipline had to offer yet still had to fight with journals to get his ideas published.

I knew Bill and his work well and cannot think of a more difficult biography to get 'right' - yet I think Dr Segerstrale has done it! Not only is his work presented well and accurately ( a task few biologists' would dare), the author also captured the double-side persona (maybe multi-sided would be better) and the sometimes tortured mental life Hamilton chose to lead. Yet his generosity and open heartedness was legion.

I was the undergraduate student whose piece on Bill is quoted from extensively on p. 113 (from my obituary piece 'Death of Greatness' ABC Books 2003)Nature's Oracle: The Life and Work of W.D.Hamilton. I was among the first third year class Bill taught in the autumn term of 1965 at Imperial College - curiously we are also the undergraduate class pictured in Plate 5 (which is from Spring term 1966). We are the rather scruffy looking ones on the right of the picture. In those far gone days the final year class (the third year in the UK system) spent its final term at Silwood. At that stage ), the IC classes were small - no more than 12 in a year. Bill handled these reasonably well and vice-versa. I believe it was only when classes expanded in the '70's that his teaching 'troubles' began.

A book to be owned, read, annotated and dipped into repeatedly by researchers, teachers - and human beings.

Roger Kitching
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on 20 February 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have an interest in evolution and Hamilton is one of the lesser-known names in the subject. The author gives a good account of what made Hamiltons work revolutionary, but seems to focus a little too much on trying to make him a mythic figure. Hamilton certainly inspired many later greats such as Dawkins, but it feels like the author is trying to stretch the facts into something more than they are; the book could have been a quarter the size and still been just as informative and interesting. The writing is perfectly adequate, however, although I admit to skipping some of the more mundane biographical sections. Worth a trip to the library, but I would not buy this.
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