The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness (Paperback)

The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness By Oren Harman Cover Image
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"Enthralling." —Frans de Waal, New York Times Book Review

Survival of the fittest or survival of the nicest? Since the dawn of time man has contemplated the mystery of altruism, but it was Darwin who posed the question most starkly. From the selfless ant to the stinging bee to the man laying down his life for a stranger, evolution has yielded a goodness that in theory should never be.

Set against the sweeping tale of 150 years of scientific attempts to explain kindness, The Price of Altruism tells for the first time the moving story of the eccentric American genius George Price (1922–1975), as he strives to answer evolution's greatest riddle. An original and penetrating picture of twentieth century thought, it is also a deeply personal journey. From the heights of the Manhattan Project to the inspired equation that explains altruism to the depths of homelessness and despair, Price's life embodies the paradoxes of Darwin’s enigma. His tragic suicide in a squatter’s flat, among the vagabonds to whom he gave all his possessions, provides the ultimate contemplation on the possibility of genuine benevolence.

About the Author

Oren Harman, who has a doctorate from Oxford University, is the Chair of the Graduate Program in Science Technology and Society at Bar Ilan University and a professor of the history of science. He is 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 and New York.

Praise For…

[E]nthralling…Extremely well researched and written with great love of the subject, The Price of Altruism reveals all sorts of personal details of momentous events in the history of science…This is a book for anyone interested in the question, first posed by Darwin himself, of how we ended up with so much kindness in a natural world customarily depicted as 'red in tooth and claw.' Price struggled with it on an intensely personal level. His story is highly relevant at a time when greed as the basis of society has lost much of its appeal.

— Frans de Waal - New York Times Book Review

Ever since Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution in 1859, scientists have wondered whether it can explain the existence of altruism. Price wanted to describe mathematically how a genetic disposition to altruism could evolve. As Mr. Harman
so vividly describes, Price ultimately became one of the vagabonds he set out to save.
— The Economist

The Price of Altruism puts Price's work into a wide scientific and social context, showing real insight into its importance and genuine sympathy for the tale of his life.

— Steve Jones - New Scientist

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 masterfully told story... This book is in the same class as Sylvia Nasar's A Beautiful Mind.

— Library Journal

I stayed up a good part of the night reading... fascinating!
— Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind

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

This book is a stunning tour de force. The puzzle of altruism is revealed as it would be in a thriller, with twists and turns and surprises almost until the end.
— Noah Feldman, Bemis Professor of Law, Harvard University

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

George Price recognized that acts of kindness and self-sacrifice stood blatantly opposed to most of the principles of modern Darwinism. Oren Harman's wide-ranging intellectual quest brings this shy, anguished, and fascinating man alive with style and passion, and reminds us of the powerful emotions that can fuel great scientific achievement.
— Janet Browne, author of Charles Darwin

In this remarkable book, Oren Harman tracks George Price, an awkward, disturbed, and profoundly, almost saintly scientist.... It is an astonishing story at every level, from the destitute wanderings and genial interventions of Price to a revealing account of how modern evolutionary biology took its contemporary form.
— Peter Galison, Pellegrino University Professor of the History of Science and Physics, Harvard University
Product Details
ISBN: 9780393339994
ISBN-10: 0393339998
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: June 20th, 2011
Pages: 464
Language: English