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

( 5 )

Overview

"I stayed up all 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 brilliant biography of a brilliant man. A powerful page-turner that vividly renders his obsessive absorption with the poles of cooperation and competition in nature. Harman lucidly sets Price in conversation with the shaping progenitors and ideas of modern evolutionary science, from game theory to genetic

... See more details below
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (39) from $1.99   
  • New (12) from $6.98   
  • Used (27) from $1.99   
The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$10.49
BN.com price
(Save 44%)$18.95 List Price

Overview

"I stayed up all 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 brilliant biography of a brilliant man. A powerful page-turner that vividly renders his obsessive absorption with the poles of cooperation and competition in nature. Harman lucidly sets Price in conversation with the shaping progenitors and ideas of modern evolutionary science, from game theory to genetic selection, while movingly recounting the tragedy of his self-destructive personal life."---DANIEL J. KEVLES, author of In the Name of Eugenics and The Baltimore Case" "One of the many merits of Oren Harman's uncommonly stimulating book is that it never loses its philosophical bearings. His account of the search for goodness in nature---and of George Price, his unforgettable protagonist---is almost cinematically satisfying. Harman has a rare gift for bringing ideas and thinkers to life." - LEON WIESELTIER, literary editor of the New Republic and author of Kaddish" "A terrific book, at once scholarly and impossible to put down." -PETER GODFREY-SMITH, author of Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection" "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, author of Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of Roosevelt's Great Justices" "One of the great mysteries of nature is how evolution, as it selects for survival of the fittest, could possibly leave any room at all for altruism. In this remarkable book, Oren Harman tracks George Price, an awkward, disturbed, and profoundly saint-like scientist, as he cracks 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, author of Einstein's Clocks, Poincare's Maps" "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" "The Price of Altruism tells for the first time the moving story of the eccentric American genius George Price, as he strives to answer evolution's greatest riddle. Different and outrageously driven to succeed, Price was a gifted polymath with a Zelig-like ability to be present at the making of much of the twentieth century's seminal science. But it was in tackling Darwin's great mystery where he finally made his most dramatic discovery. Ultimately a homeless recluse, he had caught a glimpse of a deep and scary truth about humanity." "Within these pages, the story of Price's life is intricately woven into the sweeping are of modern politics and science: from the Beagle in the southern seas to the court of the Russian czar to the chambers of London's Royal Society, from World War I trenches to Vietnam demonstrations, Marxist manifestos to Nazi heresies. The scientific quest to fathom the mysteries of altruism invites to the stage sneaky amoebas and Russian anarchists, sentry gazelles and tyrannical despots, brain imaging, game theory, the Bomb, and the Holy Bible. Featuring some of the most brilliant minds of the modern age, it is the continuing and soaring tale of man's search for the origins of kindness" An original and penetrating picture of twentieth-century thought, The Price of Altruism is also a deeply personal journey. From the heights of the Manhattan Project to the inspired, soul-shaking 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.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With his new book, Harman (The Man Who Invented the Chromosome) examines Price, a scientist and author whose promising life ended in self- destruction. Harman didn’t set out to write a straightforward biography, but rather a history of Price’s lifelong quest to understand evolution and the origins of altruism; along those lines the author includes the life and work of “Orwellian” psychologist B.F. Skinner, J.B.S. Haldane, and “the most distinguished Darwinian since Darwin,” Bill Hamilton, who would become a close colleague of Price’s. But it’s Price’s tale that grounds Harman’s book. Part One focuses on the man’s early life in Minneapolis, his marriage and divorce to Julia Madigan, with whom he had two daughters, and his later life in New York City, where he held countless jobs as he tried to get published. In November 1967 Price moved to London, determined to “crack the problem of altruism,” and Part Two picks up there, with his conversion to Christianity, after which he gave away his possessions and dedicated himself to helping London’s homeless, until he eventually joined their ranks. In 1975, just after Christmas, he took his own life. Harman has given voice to the professional contributions and personal struggles of a man whose body lies today in an unmarked grave in North London. (June)
Library Journal
Rarely can a work of popular science be read at so many levels—even the title contains a double entendre. The problem of why altruism exists among self-interested individuals competing against each other according to natural selection is among the most complex of Darwinian theory. Harman (The Man Who Invented the Chromosome: A Life of Cyril Darlington) reveals George Price as a scientific outsider who nonetheless discovered the mathematical formula that described both individual and group covariance. Although he worked on some of the major scientific undertakings of his day, his youthful ego and bravado kept him on the fringes. Later in life, after a profound religious conversion, he dedicated his life to altruism in a different way—by tending to the homeless and downtrodden. His tragic suicide was, perhaps, the price of his pursuit. VERDICT A masterfully told story that edifies while it engages, this book is in the same class as Sylvia Nasar's A Beautiful Mind and could be as popular. Readers who enjoy this may also be interested in The Compassionate Instinct, edited by Dacher Keltner and others.—Gregg Sapp, Evergreen State Coll., Olympia, WA
Kirkus Reviews
The strange story of an oddball scientist who developed a mathematical approach to understanding altruism. By the end of his life, George Price (1922-75), a University of Chicago doctorate in chemistry and "forgotten American genius," was homeless in London, writes Harman (Science, Technology, and Society/Bar Ilan Univ., Israel; The Man Who Invented the Chromosome: A Life of Cyril Darling, 2004). Price had worked as a chemist, economist, writer, mathematician, psychologist and physiologist, pursuing new ideas and theories for such organizations as the Manhattan Project, IBM and Bell Labs. As an independent scientist, he penetrated the origins of altruism deeper than ever before. In this stylish, demanding biography, the author draws on papers and interviews to re-create the personal and scientific life of this quirky, unorthodox loner. Harman places Price in the tradition of scientists like Darwin, T.H. Huxley, J.B.S. Haldane, B.F. Skinner and W.D. Hamilton, who have studied the origins of human kindness. In particular, Price sought to learn whether, in the face of self-interested behavior, true selfless altruism exists. His "Price equation," which specifies "the exact conditions under which the good of the group would upstage the good of the individual," remains a crucial tool for understanding aspects of evolution. (Harman's explication of the equation-in both text and appendices-may elude lay readers.) By 1970, a recent convert from atheism to Christianity, Price was pursuing the life of a true altruist, giving all his possessions to the poor and trying to rescue the homeless. But he failed to change the lives of the homeless, and Price, long depressive, sank further into despair and eventually committed suicide. Harman makes a strong case for the maverick scientist's brilliance, noting that Hamilton called Price an intellectual Sherlock Holmes. He also demonstrates how Price's insights overwhelmed many, from his teachers and classmates at New York's Stuyvesant High School to a Nature editor who once rejected a submission with the comment, "It is too hard to understand."An intriguing history for serious students of the history of science. Author tour to New York, Boston, Washington, D.C. Agent: Sarah Chalfant/The Wylie Agency
Frans de Waal
Extremely well researched and written with great love of the subject…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.
—The New York Times
The Big Issue
“Remarkable... fascinating.”
The Economist
“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 Spectator
Fascinating.... Important... full of complex and deeply interesting ideas.— Sam Leith
Literary Review
Brilliant... A great story.— Brian Appleyard
Sunday Times [UK]
“[A] rich and vigorous survey of the controversy over altruism and its evolutionary role, stretching from the 19th century to now.”
Reader's Digest
“Would make a great film (probably starring Matt Damon).”
New Scientist
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
The New York Times Book Review
[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
Steve Jones - New Scientist
“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.”
Sam Leith - The Spectator
“Fascinating.... Important... full of complex and deeply interesting ideas.”
Brian Appleyard - Literary Review
“Brilliant... A great story.”
Frans de Waal - The New York Times Book Review
“[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.”
Janet Browne
“Oren Harman's compelling new book explores one of the key questions of our era—what are the origins of altruism? A little known mathematician lies at the heart of the story. George Price recognized that acts of kindness and self-sacrifice stood blatantly opposed to most of the principles of modern Darwinism. 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.”
Noah Feldman
“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.”
Leon Wieseltier
“Uncommonly brilliant and deeply stimulating... almost cinematically satisfying. Harman has a rare gift for bringing ideas and thinkers to life.”
Sylvia Nasar
“I stayed up a good part of the night reading... fascinating!”
Peter Godfrey-Smith
“A terrific book, at once scholarly and impossible to put down.”
Daniel Kevles
“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.”
Peter Galison
“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.”
The Barnes & Noble Review

George Price was a remarkable man who came to judge his own life a failure, and had many reasons to do so. The legacy that may or may not buoy up that judgment consists of a handful of obscure mathematical papers that purport to make contributions to evolutionary biology. Price himself doubted their value, and biologists still use his work, but there remains an ambivalence about its meaning and significance. In The Price of Altruism, Oren Harman tells the story of evolutionary debates over altruism versus selfishness from The Origin of Species to the present day, and interweaves it with biographical material. Both strands are rich and complex, and their interplay creates a stirring book that will reward many readers with an intelligent interest in altruism.

George Price was an enigmatic figure in life, and remains so 25 years after his suicide in London. An American, he was involved in the Manhattan Project and worked for IBM, and more than once he claimed to have invented or, better, to be on track to invent, a grand new machine. One example was his "Design Machine," in which one could specify any three-dimensional shape, and it would produce an object with that shape. It would have been very useful for manufacturing parts, and such a device may or may not exist today, but in 1956 it was far beyond the realm of the feasible. George publicised his "invention," and appeared heroically in November of that year in Fortune magazine. He also contacted many famous figures, not hesitating to use his considerable intellectual and rhetorical skills to interest Hubert Humphrey in his ideas about winning the Cold War, and to walk into B. F. Skinner's lab and discuss "Teaching Machines" with him. Thus he started on his life as an uncertain mixture of visionary and charlatan-showman, of profound thinker and intellectual gadfly and self-publicist, which Harman documents very engagingly.

The reader of this book meets Prince Kropotkin, J. B. S. Haldane, John von Neumann, R. A. Fisher, Bill Hamilton, John Maynard Smith, C. A. B. Smith, and many more characters relevant to the development of evolutionary biology. A reasonably knowledgeable reader will have heard of these people, but not know much about most of them, and Harman gives very entertaining accounts. (There are inaccuracies, however; for example, W. D. Hamilton did not have a research post at Silwood Park in the 1960s, but a university lectureship. Indeed, the undergraduates complained each year about his teaching of population genetics, and appealed for marks from that course not to count towards their degree results.)

While in complaining mode, I may as well get off my chest irritation with the bizarre and distracting convention adopted in the book of following a colon with an upper-case letter, as though it were the beginning of a new sentence. And the more entertaining of the typos include a "compliment of chromosomes" and someone having "too much on their palate." The endnotes refer to manuscript sources such as GPP (George Price Papers), but to find what GPP means, it turns out the reader must find the first reference to that source in the endnotes. Nor is it obvious where to find these manuscript sources, so the academic good intentions of the endnotes are not fully carried through.

But the central claim to interest of George Price, in connection to altruism, is the famous "Price Equation." I forebear to repeat it here in any of its many forms, but I need to set the scene by saying that (a simple form of) the Price Equation shows how a change in gene frequency from one generation to the next can be understood in terms of statistical associations across individuals in the parental generation, between a number of quantities: each individual's gene frequency, the number of gametes each individual succeeds in contributing to making offspring, and the difference in gene frequency of those successful gametes from the individual's own gene frequency. The Price Equation is remarkable in that it applies to sexual, asexual, and mixed populations, to cases with overdominance and epistasis, to arbitrary mating systems, and to haploidy, diploidy and to mixed ploidies too.

The equation applies to selection of all traits, and allows some very neat analytic manipulations. The book focuses on altruism because social traits were the first application, in Hamilton's 1970 paper, and because it is currently used in the yawningly long-lasting debate on group selection. However, it is also useful in studying the sex ratio, and in my own current research, for capturing selection on an arbitrary trait when discussing the link between gene frequencies and fitness optimisation.

Harman explains the equation in the text and in an appendix, but not very sharply, and the result is probably satisfactory for the non-technical reader interested in the personal side of the story; but it will frustrate and disappoint a biologist or mathematician who wants to understand the central scientific issue. This vagueness is not accidental. Price himself was ambivalent about the value of this contribution, and biologists working today with the Price Equation do have different understandings of it. Price enjoyed teasing Bill Hamilton with the implications of his work, but seemed to have doubts about whether what we now call the Price Equation belonged to his profound or charlatan side. There is a certain wonderment in imagining Price having employed his unquestioned intelligence and inter-personal skills to have written his papers to run rings around succeeding generations of biologists.

I myself believe there is indeed a profound value in the Price Equation, but let's look first at a positive and negative aspect that Harman neglected. On the positive side, the Price Equation deals with individuals and not, as most population genetic formalisms, with genes or genotypes. This chimes with how most biologists think conceptually about animal behaviour and design, and also with how most field biologists conduct their research. (It is not quite true, but almost, that there is no biologically interesting trait of which the genetics is known, so the emphasis on individuals is usually necessary as well as desirable.)

The negative side, neglected by Harman and not mentioned by Price, is dynamic insufficiency. Most population geneticists feel a methodological obligation to work with systems that model a population right through from one generation to the next, and in such a way that the model can pick up and repeat itself so that successive generations unfold. The Price Equation requires detailed knowledge of the parental generation, but then produces only a population average for the offspringgeneration, so that there is insufficient information to "crank the handle."

This dynamic insufficiency is the precise cost paid for the vast generality, and so useful applications of the Price Equation are likely to be found where the generality is really important and the dynamic insufficiency acceptable. It is true that the assumptions of the Price Equation are themselves dynamically insufficient, but even strong advocates of the Price Equation differ on whether it can become dynamically sufficient if enough further assumptions are made.

In conclusion, The Price of Altruism is a very readable and entertaining popular book, with flatteringly academic-like qualities. It ranges widely, and if there is some uncertainty in the book's resolution of central issues, that is at least partly because the Price Equation is still at the centre of continuing, sometimes fierce debates in biology. I'd like to think that a new edition in ten years' time could have a coda with settled answers to questions of altruism and selfishness, but that may be too optimistic.

--Alan Grafen

Alan Grafen is Professor of Theoretical Biology at the University of Oxford, and a keen user of the Price Equation since 1983.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393067781
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/7/2010
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 1,448,751
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet 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.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

PART ONE

1 War or Peace? 9

2 New York 39

3 Selections 59

4 Roaming 85

5 Friendly Starfish, Selfish Games 109

6 Hustling 139

7 Solutions 153

8 No Easy Way 177

PART TWO

9 London 195

10 "Coincidence" Conversion 227

11 "Love" Conversion 257

12 Reckonings 283

13 Altruism 311

14 Last Days 333

Epilogue 349

Appendix 1 Covariance and Kin Selection 367

Appendix 2 The Full Price Equation and Levels of Selection 369

Appendix 3 Covariance and the Fundamental Theorem 372

Acknowledgments 375

Notes 383

Index 429

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 5 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(2)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)