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

Biography / Memoir

By: Oren Harman

451 pages, halftones

WW Norton

Paperback | Aug 2011 | #194245 | ISBN-13: 9780393339994
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £20.50 $25/€23 approx
Hardback | Jul 2010 | #194246 | ISBN-13: 9780393067781
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £21.99 $27/€25 approx

About this book

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.

[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, The New York Times Book Review

"[A] rich and vigorous survey of the controversy over altruism and its evolutionary role, stretching from the 19th century to now."
- Sunday Times [UK]

"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

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