The Price of Altruism Pdf Summary Reviews By Oren Harman

The Price of Altruism Pdf Summary

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. 24 Illustrations. 


The Price of Altruism Review

RML Newton

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent addition to my evolution library
Reviewed in the United States on August 23, 2022

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Outstanding book! Harman shapes a story – a biography of Price’s life together with his intellectual contributions to the question of human altruism – that is compelling and evocative. As much as I have read in human evolution, I felt I still learned a great deal (although I can’t say I fully understand either the Fisher Principle or the Price Equation). And he doesn’t stop with George Price: we see other characters (particularly Smith and Hamilton) – and how their professional disagreements reflected the complex social interactions we as humans often have with one another.
For those interested, other excellent evolutionary biographies include: Evolutionary Restraints (a sympathetic portrait of VS Wynn-Edwards, a lone voice for group selection), Darwins’s Sacred Cause (linking Darwin’s opposition to slavery to his belief in common descent of all humanity), and The Politics of Evolution (a balanced but critical biography of Steven J Gould). I find these books connecting the scientists to their work do a great service in enriching our understanding of the field.

C. M. Stahl

3.0 out of 5 stars Curious subject matter, lots of subtext
Reviewed in the United States on March 29, 2016

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For this reader Harman’s portrayal of this odd scientist started off on the wrong foot. He reminded us of the quote usually attributed (initially) to Tennyson when he embedded “Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw” into his In Memoriam A. H. H poem. Tennyson’s long poem was an ode to his friend and asked questions about the concept of Christian kindness in the face of nature’s amoral reality. Harmon reminded us of the quote far too often. He also misplayed Adam Smith’s notion of the “invisible hand of the market”. First of all he referred to this concept far more often than Adam Smith did in The Wealth of Nations. Harmon used this idea as if Smith’s theory of capitalism was the antithesis to altruism and kindness.

That sort of misrepresentation suggests three things. It could be that the author never read the book that was cited, that they did not understand it or that they wanted to deliberately mislead the reader audience for their own end.

His subject matter George Price, also raised my curiosity. I understood Price (prior to reading Harman’s account) as while brilliant, very unbalanced, leaving much undone in the projects of his life right at the point of completion. Deserting his family when his children were young does not suggest altruism. Neither does providing the down and out of London with the means to repeat their self-destructive behavior.

I began the book with something of a chip on my shoulder regarding the subject and my soreness amplified by the misuse of a single quote by Adam Smith. However, Harman’s book deserves far more credit than it was given here after reading 50 pages. His portrayal of Price did nothing to change my mind about the mental instability. In fact he re-enforced most of my notions but he humanized the static notion of Price that I had brought to my reading. Despite Price’s behavior he did come up with some ideas that have survived the test of time. He also rubbed shoulders with some prominent scientific theorists. He became very interested in game theory as it applied to selection and evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS), Fisher’s fundamental theorem of natural selection was another that Price streamlined while looking for an answer to the question about whether altruism was specific to individuals or groups. Kin closeness and levels of altruism appears to be the winner in most arguments on this subject.

So it was Price’s analysis and scientific acumen what Harman was explaining in this book. It was not Price’s own altruism. Even when Price imagined that he was helping the poor during the last few years of his life he was not. His conversion to Christianity while it was odd behavior, his practice of it was even odder.

His alleged devotion and commitment to serving God as a subject waiting for direct divine commandment was apparently not at odds with Price’s drinking, unmarried sex and taking drugs. Even though many “devout” people do those things, they do them with the understanding that they will not be publicly exposed. Hubris often proves them wrong but that is not the point.

Ultimately Price defied one of those “big sins” that in typical Christian thinking cannot be forgiven. He ended his own life by cutting his cartoroid artery. He was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in London and remains largely unknown today.

Some of his work was carried on by John Maynard Smith who probably is responsible for preserving the very little legacy that Price has today. There are acolytes such as Steven Fine who today write routinely citing Price’s work but in Fine’s case it appears to be an odd advocacy in itself.

Despite my initial misgivings about this book, I learned much about Price’s science as well some explanation of his behavior. Harman kept the story going throughout this moderately long book. I read the last 400 or so pages with more curiosity than the first 50 pages provided.


4.0 out of 5 stars The story if Geroge Price is 5 star or more the writing is not..
Reviewed in the United States on April 2, 2013

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The story of George Price is the story of a extremely high functioning autist…He can solve almost any problem that interests him but he is a half step off when dealing with the rest of the human race… This is the way of most highly functioning autistic persons… He is most comfortable solving the mysteries of science and he can do it all… The range of his scientific accomplishment is so vast as to be almost unbelievable… Once he locks on to his research task he devours it… What ever he decides to take on he masters and at striking speed… Somehow in his different brain, Price just gets it…

The concept of academic disciplines are lost on him as is the petty bitchyness of academia… His was a wondrous gift to humanity that out of its normal dismissal of those who are different humanity missed a wonderful opportunity to increase its fundamental knowledge…

George Price was not in it for the money … He invented the CADCAM and simply walked away from it … Some would think that was not the most clever thing to do… If you have a taste for money you might think that way but would the problem be Price’s or yours? He cared nothing for accolades… He did not seek praise and he seldom got it… Imposters took the bows for many of his accomplishments… He took to his tasks like a dog takes to chasing sticks, for the shear joy of it…

It is the callousness and calumny of the human race that took George Prices life at age 50… What wonders could he have accomplished with the aid of a little of that rarest thing, the milk of human kindness… Shame on humanity for the loss of a wonderful gifted man who wanted nothing more but to be able to keep giving…

Why not 5 stars… The story is certainly worth it… However the treatment of it is not… The author certainly knows his subject as far as the facts go but he got lost in foot notes and academic claptrap … Hence instead of a classic story of the many successes and the downfall of a great and wonderful man, in the end, the author produced a manual and not a symphony …

George Price’s story deserves to be an opera…The story of George Price generates the same sort of waste and human tragedy as the story of Romeo and Juliet… It deserves the same level of artistry

About Oren Harman Author Of The Price of Altruism pdf Book

Oren Harman
Oren Harman

Oren Harman Author Of The Price of Altruism pdf Book, 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.

The Price of Altruism pdf, Paperback, Hardcover Book Information

The Price of Altruism pdf book
The Price of Altruism pdf book
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ W. W. Norton & Company; Illustrated edition (June 7, 2010)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 464 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0393067785
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0393067781
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.71 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Best Sellers Rank: #1,245,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • #429 in Philanthropy & Charity (Books)
  • #2,334 in Scientist Biographies
  • #5,099 in History & Philosophy of Science (Books)
  • Customer Reviews: 4.0 out of 5 stars    94 ratings

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