The Price Of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness Paperback – 5 May 2011
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"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)
"A brilliant biography of a brilliant man. A powerful page-turner that vividly renders the obsessive absorption with the poles of cooperation and competition in nature" (Daniel Kevles, Stanley Woodward Professor of History at Yale University)
"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)
About the Author
Oren Harman obtained a D.Phil in the History of Science from Oxford University in 2001. He is the Chair of the Graduate Program in Science, Technology and Society at Bar Ilan University, the author of The Man Who Invented the Chromosome, a documentary film maker, and a frequent contributor to The New Republic. He lives in Tel Aviv.
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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.
That's the story, the book covers all of the above and a hell of a lot of other stuff, taking in Darwin's travels, the Russian Revolution, American Cold War Politics, Post Darwin confusion and above all the search for the evolutionary basis of altruism. It is a complicated and at times, frustrating read. but hang in there and you are ultimately rewarded with a quite literally fantastic tale. It would be hard to make up this kind of stuff and be believed.
This is Price warts and all. He tried to sort it all out and ultimately maybe he tried to take it a step too far and paid the price (hence the cunning title).
Good on you George. RIP.
But he does seem to have been a genuine scientific genius, even if he was also unable to build on his brilliance to establish a scientific or technological career.
This is a very well written book, sympathetic but not slavishly admiring of its subject. I'm ashamed to admit that I skipped some of the more complicated bits about group and kin selection - I hope I can revisit them soon.