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About the book
  • Published: 15 May 2011
  • ISBN: 9780099531661
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 464
  • RRP: $27.99

The Price Of Altruism

George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness




The completely compelling biography of a remarkable man, and his search for the origins of kindness.

When George Price died in January 1975, his funeral in London was attended by five homeless men. Alongside them were Bill Hamilton and John Maynard Smith, two distinguished British evolutionary biologists. All seven men had come to mourn an eccentric American genius who helped to unpick the riddle of how altruism, or unselfish concern for the welfare of others, could exist in a world driven by survival of the fittest and who committed suicide aged just 52.

In The Price of Altruism Price’s personal and professional journey is intricately woven into a sweeping arc of modern politics and science that takes us from Darwin’s Beagle to the court of the Russian Tsar, from Marxist manifestos to Nazi heresies, and from First World War trenches to Vietnam demonstrations. Featuring some of the most brilliant minds of the modern age, it is the riveting tale of mankind’s search for the origins of kindness.

  • Pub date: 15 May 2011
  • ISBN: 9780099531661
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 464
  • RRP: $27.99

About the Author

Oren Harman

Oren Harman obtained a D.Phil in the History of Science from Oxford University in 2001. He is the Chair of the Graduate Program in Science, Technology and Society at Bar Ilan University, 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.


Praise for The Price Of Altruism

“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

“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


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