So many concepts in Price of Altruism just blew me away. Did you know that fMRI images of people being generous light up the same area of the brain asSo many concepts in Price of Altruism just blew me away. Did you know that fMRI images of people being generous light up the same area of the brain as food and sex? Being generous gives us pleasure, and is rewarded in the great evolutionary game of reproduction. Also, female worker bees and ants are more related to their sisters than they would be to children had they had any? And my new word from the book is pabulum: material for intellectual nourishment.
At first blush, you might think altruism? Sacrificing of one’s self for the good of the group? But, but, that’s not survival of the fittest! Evolution is selfish; it’s all about passing on your genes! The second part of that statement is certainly true, but don’t forget that if your family or your group dies, no genes will be passed on to those legions of descendants.
It turns out that the study of behavioral evolution (altruism included) has been a delicate and politically wrought subject. In half of the book (alternating every chapter), Harman takes the reader on a winding historical journey. From Victorian scientists through to Price’s development of his eponymous equation, which models the outcome of a given trait on future generations, we learn about the arguments of relatedness, kinship, and group selection theories. The historical detail and cast of characters is staggering; at times the reader is left wondering if Harman has taken too large of a bite from the evolutionary pie. While all the stories and asides are fascinating, it seems that the author might have included some because “dammit I did the research, so it’s going in!” Frequently the connections between our various actors and their works are not clearly drawn for the reader. Jargon is frequently not explained, and unfortunately there are unclear explanations of some mathematical principles.
Nonetheless, there were so many instances where I had to just put the book down to think about the issues and let them coalesce in my mind before continuing. This is certainly an intellectually rewarding book.
The second half of the story, interwoven between the scientific history is the story of the life of George Price. Luckily these sections flow much better. An emotionally flawed but intellectually brilliant man, Price went from chemist and father, through various professions to estranged loner and religious zealot. Yet Price was able to put together pieces of a mathematical puzzle to explain inheritance of traits that was independent of genetic or kinship attributes. Now known as Price’s equation, it’s an elegant model that can be applied not just to altruism, but also to inheritable traits, economic systems and biological systems. Price solved the problem of altruism in kin selection, but he himself was a failed parent, husband and colleague. Eventually the story has a tragic end, but Price’s equation lives on.
This is just a tough book to rate because I am so conflicted: the ideas, concepts, and history are brilliant and mind-expanding. The writing style – lack of connections between ideas, very large cast of characters, lots of side-tracked stories, unclear target audience – was at times confusing and downright painful. But not all the time, luckily. At the end of the day, I can confidently say the book is delicious, tasty pabulum....more
This isn't a straight-up biography of Lincoln. And it's certa(I thought it would make sense to start this while I'm still reading Gone With the Wind.)
This isn't a straight-up biography of Lincoln. And it's certainly not a history of the Civil War. Instead it's a portrait of Lincoln, defined by the diverse men he surrounded himself with on his Cabinet. In particular, Goodwin focuses on the 4 major contenders in the Republican national convention: Lincoln, Seward, Chase and Bates. The better part of the book takes place leading up to Lincoln's 1860 election to his death in 1865.
It's a fascinating, fabulous look at the politics behind the man. I'll be honest: politics - the rhetoric, the deal-making, the personal wrangling - bores me to tears. In addition, the details and minutia of war generally bores me silly. (I'm looking at you War & Peace!) Although quite necessarily, this book is mostly about these two things, politics and the U.S. Civil War, I was enthralled. Never before had details of when, where and how to make decisions seemed to be more vital to elucidate the nature of a man.
And it's really hard not to fall in love with Lincoln. The focus of the book, that Lincoln chose to surround himself with opposing personal advisers in Washington and Generals on the battlefield, not only shows his self-assured character to deal with warring factions but also shows his wont and need to ponder all sides of an argument before reaching a decision. What struck me the most about Lincoln, however, is his ability to let criticisms roll off his back, maintain his composure, and disarm people with a quick joke or story. If only I could have met Lincoln to hear some of these retorts in person!
I should mention that Goodwin doesn't shy away from Lincoln's mistakes or lapses in judgment. Particularly surprising was his gathering of free black leaders from the North at the White House to propose a plan of resettling all blacks residing in the U.S. to a new settlement somewhere in Central or South America. Luckily that proposal didn't go much further than that meeting. He occasionally let the temper get the best of him, but was quick to mend the broken fences.
I also appreciated Goodwin's inclusion of the women behind and beside Lincoln and his leaders. She presents quite a balanced portrait of these remarkable and distinguished women. It's quite clear that many of the men relied on their wives and daughters for council at work and with personal relationship. Mary Todd Lincoln was something else. Despite her wild mood swings, Lincoln by all accounts remained calm and kind to her. It's a pretty fascinating relationship, and not one I can understand or relate to.
After finishing the book, my first reaction is to immediately pick up other Lincoln books. (By the way, the page count is a bit deceiving - in the paperback edition, there's 'only' 757 pages of text. The rest are index and extensive bibliography.) The natural one to go to would be John Nicolay and John Hay's Abraham Lincoln: A Biography, but it's a 7 volume work! There are many condensed copies out there. Hay and Nicolay were Lincoln's personal secretaries/assistants who slept in the White House, and were quite intimate with Lincoln. The other book I'm dying to get to - because it's subject isn't really covered in Team of Rivals is Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. Likewise, I'm eager to read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. And I think Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era would round out my Civil War education nicely. Feel free to throw any other suggestions my way!...more
Fantastic! Fictionalized biography of HP Lovecraft, imagining that his horrific creatures were real.
The best thing about the book is the artwork. EnrFantastic! Fictionalized biography of HP Lovecraft, imagining that his horrific creatures were real.
The best thing about the book is the artwork. Enrique Breccia used at least 4 distinct styles to portray the real world, the imaginary and horrific world, Lovecraft's married life, and the fictional Arkham: pen-and-ink, technicolor watercolors, scratched oils, and pastels respectively. What's amazing is when we see the techniques blend, melt and collage in frames....more