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The Price of Altruism and Oren Harman


"Enthralling.... 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"

Frans de Waal, The 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 20th 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.

"Striking and original... colossal..." - John Carey, The Sunday London Times

"Remarkable" – W.F. Bynum, Nature

"A remarkable achievement… a major contribution" – H. Allen Orr, The New York Review of Books

"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

"Outstanding" – Tom Bailey, Times Literary Supplement

"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

"Deeply researched...Harman tells Price's story well" – Steven Frank, Science

"A masterfully told story... This book is in the same class as Sylvia Nasar's A Beautiful Mind and could be as popular." -- American Library Journal

"A real tour de force" - Frans de Waal, Huffington

"Fascinating.. Important... " - Sam Leith, Spectator

"Brilliant" – Literary Review

"Ever since Charles Darwin had published his theory of evolution in 1859, scientists had 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

"Fascinating... Harman deftly weaves his account of Price’s life and trials with a chronicle of the major developments of evolutionary biology and the personal dramas and obsessions that lay behind them" - Forward

"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, Yale University

“Anyone interested in evolutionary biology or the history of science will enjoy and appreciate this book” - Stephen Pruett-Jones, Reports of the National center of Science Education

"A terrific book, at once scholarly and impossible to put down" -- Peter Godfrey-Smith, Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University

"One of the great mysteries of nature is how evolution, as it selects for survival of the fittest, could possibly leave any room for altruism. In this remarkable book, Oren Harman tracks George Price, an awkward, disturbed, and profoundly, almost saintly scientist as he cracked this fundamental biological problem. 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

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