> Skip to content

The completely compelling biography of George Price.

Survival of the fittest or survival of the nicest? Since the dawn of time man has contemplated the mysteries of altruism, but it was Darwin who first posed the question most starkly. From the selfless ant to the stinging bee to the man laying down his life for a stranger, evolution had borne a goodness that in theory should never be. The quest to answer this riddle would travel far and wide.

The Altruism Code follows the incredible story of the eccentric American genius George Price. From the heights of the Manhattan Project to the depths of homelessness and despair, his life embodies the paradoxes of Darwin’s enigma. Price’s unusual scientific journey led to an all-consuming quest to crack the secrets of altruism. What he found compelled him to give away all his belongings to help others, ultimately becoming one of the vagabonds he set out to save. His tragic suicide, in a squat, alone, far away from family, provides the ultimate contemplation on the possibility of genuine kindness.

The story of Price’s life is intricately woven into the sweeping arc 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 Economics lecture halls at the University of Chicago to Senate hearing rooms on Capitol Hill; from Indiana prairies to Brazilian jungles to Jamaican mountains; World War I trenches to Vietnam demonstrations, Marxist manifestos to Anglican proclamations, Quaker pacifications 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 tale of man’s search for the origins of kindness.

Reviews

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

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

A terrific book, at once scholarly and impossible to put down

Peter Godfrey-Smith, professor of philosophy at Harvard University

Beautifully written, Harman's book does justice both to its sensitive subject matter and to the life of a very special, complex and ultimately tragic man.

Waterstone's Books Quarterly

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.

American Library Journal

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 recognised 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.

Janet Browne, author of Charles Darwin

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.

Professor Peter Galison

striking and original

John Carey, The Sunday Times

a challenging book...full of complex and deeply interesting ideas

Sam Leith, Spectator

A fascinating trawl through the borderland where science and society intertwine

Doug Johnstone, The Big Issue

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, New Scientist

Oren Harman's outstanding new biography of the American scientist George Price makes the case that Price's theoretical contributions to biology are among the most important of the twentieth century...Price was undoubtedly an opaque figure; Harman has approached his life with sensitivity and intelligence, providing a clearer window into this troubled mind

Tom Bailey, TLS

Moving biography exploring a geneticst's understanding of human selflessness

The Times

An energetic tale that presents not only the science but the history and politics which produced it

Islington Tribune

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

Read More

Formats & editions

  • Paperback

    9780099531661

    May 15, 2011

    Vintage

    464 pages

    RRP $24.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • Hardback

    9781847920621

    May 15, 2010

    Bodley Head

    464 pages

    RRP $49.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook

    9781407085241

    May 15, 2011

    Vintage Digital

    464 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

Recommendations

Gallipoli
The Gene
Sapiens
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The God Delusion
Universal
A Life Underwater
Guns, Germs And Steel
The Grand Design
1788
The Power of Habit
Storm in a Teacup
Rethink
Hitler's First Victims
The Knowledge
The Ascent Of Man
Dawn of the New Everything
Ask an Astronaut
The Story of the Jews
Behave