The Price of Altruism
George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness
The moving tale of one man's quest to crack the mystery of altruism, an evolutionary enigma that has haunted scientists since Darwin.
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.
- June 2010
- 6.4 × 9.6 in
/ 464 pages
- Sales Territory: Worldwide including Canada, but excluding the British Commonwealth.
Endorsements & Reviews
“[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 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
“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
“Brilliant... A great story.” — Brian Appleyard, Literary Review
“Remarkable... fascinating.” — The Big Issue
“Fascinating.... Important... full of complex and deeply interesting ideas.” — Sam Leith, The Spectator
“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
“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
“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
“An intriguing history for serious students of the history of science.” — Kirkus Reviews