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Nature's Oracle: The Life and Work of W.D.Hamilton by [Segerstrale, Ullica]
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Nature's Oracle: The Life and Work of W.D.Hamilton Kindle Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Review

with its wealth of new information and anecdotes, Natures Oracle fills an important gap in our knowledge of recent history of evolutionary biology. Historians interested in this topic, or in Bill Hamiltons ideas, will find in the book a useful springboard for further research. (Guido Caniglia, Journal of the History of Biology)

Segerstrale has done a terrific job. Natures Oracle is a biography truly worthy of a scientist of Hamiltons stature and it will be an invaluable source of insight for anyone interested in the life and science of one of the giants of twentieth-century biology. (J. Arvid Agren, Journal of Genetics)

William Hamilton's name stands above all others in evolutionary biology since the Modern Synthesis of the 1930s and '40s. As John Maynard Smith, with whom he had a troubled relationship, said, "He's the only bloody genius we've got." As geniuses often are, he was a complex character and an exceptional challenge for any biographer. Ullica Segerstrale is ideally qualified to rise to that challenge. She achieves a genuinely affectionate yet warts-and-all portrait of her subject, combined with a good understanding of the deep subtleties of his thinking. Those who loved him, as I did, and those who wish to know more of the astonishing originality and versatility of his contributions to science, will treasure this book. (Richard Dawkins)

This is an outstanding biography of a truly brilliant scientist. Segerstrale beautifully interweaves Hamilton's epic work with the details of his life. (Robert L. Trivers)

Interesting and readable (The Biologist)

Bill Hamilton's remarkable story has now been told: a truly great naturalist, who thought his way to the very heart of evolution by natural selection, completing and expanding the insights of Darwin as he discovered the disorienting and enlightening perspective of the gene itself. (Matt Ridley, author of The Red Queen)

About the Author

Ullica Segerstrale is Professor of Sociology at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and director of its Camras Scholars Program. She holds a PhD in sociology from Harvard, a MA in communication from the University of Pennsylvania, and MS degrees in both organic chemistry and sociology from the University of Helsinki. She has held Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships, and been supported by the American Philosophical Society, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Sloan Foundation, among others. She is a member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, and the Finnish Academy of Sciences and Letters. Segerstrale has written and lectured widely internationally on science and values, the ethics of research, and the debates about what it means to be human. Her books include Defenders of the Truth: The battle for science in the sociobiology debate and beyond, and Beyond the Science Wars: The missing discourse about science and society.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2910 KB
  • Print Length: 459 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (28 Feb. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00BLM3RGU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #350,883 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book gives a basic account of the main facts of Hamilton's life, but it does little more than that. It does not give an adequate account of Hamilton's scientific theories, and I got the distinct impression that the author is unable to do so. It seems to me most unwise to attempt a biography of someone whose work was highly technical without possessing a good understanding of that work.
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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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