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on 1 February 2015
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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VINE VOICEon 11 December 2013
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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 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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on 20 February 2014
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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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VINE VOICEon 29 September 2013
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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
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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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"Nature's Oracle: The Life and Work of W.D.Hamilton"

The book.

This is a delightful read about one of the unsung heroes of Biology. A man who was more interested in nature and how it worked than getting published in a rigid and slow moving system.
This is a biography with a difference, Ullica Segerstrale has cleverly included many facts about Hamilton but at the same time got the reader into his head and way of thinking about nature, no mean feat ! The book is beautifully written and holds your interest from the first page.
Anyone reading about evolutionary biology should read this book as part of their studies. It will help with the bigger picture of modern thinking and the slow to accept scientific community and one man's mission to take it on.

Usefulness.

I find to that read nay book in my busy life it has to be useful to me so I don't get to read many books like this. All I can say is that on a train journey from Penzance to London it kept me enthralled for the whole journey. There is fact, life experiences, quotes and archive photos galore to help the reader follow Hamilton's thinking and creativity.

Overall.

If you are into natural history or nature in general then this book is an enjoyable, educational and heart-warming read. Highly recommended !
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on 28 October 2013
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This had the opportunity to be an intriguing biography- Hamilton, to some an unsung genius of modern biology, to others just another biologist/geneticist- seems also to have had quite an interesting character and personal life. In this book, non of that however ever seems to get satisfactorily explored.

Which in the end, just leaves his science, for which he appears to have been more influential in his work on other people, notably Richard Dawkins, than in his own right. To my mind not even this issue is adequately explored. Personally, I like a biography to be primarily about the subject person and this book- nicely written as it is- misses the mark with regard to that. So if you want a handbook describing Hamilton's scientific theories, this fits the bill. If you want to know about the clearly interesting person behind them, this unfortunately isn't the place.
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VINE VOICEon 10 September 2013
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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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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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