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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A History of Altruism Glowing with the Author's Enthusiasm
The altruism equation relates to a very simple equation explaining altruism among kin in terms of costs, benefits, and the degree of relatedness. The equation does not have the generality of Newton's Third Law or Einstein's mass-energy equation, but it may well be the most important quantitative relationship in biology.

But, this book is more about people than...
Published on September 10, 2006 by Herbert Gintis

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4 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Little or no equation
An interesting collection of short related stories, but scarcely a mention of the actual equation, which is really trivial, or its development. Pity - a lost opportunity.

A future edition could usefully include a few math appendices so the average scientist can see what all the fuss is about.
Published on June 8, 2007 by R. G. W. Brown


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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A History of Altruism Glowing with the Author's Enthusiasm, September 10, 2006
By 
Herbert Gintis (Northampton, MA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness (Hardcover)
The altruism equation relates to a very simple equation explaining altruism among kin in terms of costs, benefits, and the degree of relatedness. The equation does not have the generality of Newton's Third Law or Einstein's mass-energy equation, but it may well be the most important quantitative relationship in biology.

But, this book is more about people than about equations. It consists of a beautiful set of cameos of some the the greatest biologists who have worked on the issue of altruism, including Darwin, Huxley, Kropotkin, Hamilton, Dawkins, and Price. It is an easy read and very elegant and exciting. There is some mention of results beyond 1970, but they are very, very sparse. Perhaps an historical narrative is warranted only when all the principals are dead. At any rate, for a discussion of the modern theory human altruism, together with spandrels, sociobiology, a scientific approach to morality and the social emotions, you will have to look elsewhere.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How Altruism Made Sense, March 15, 2008
This review is from: The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness (Hardcover)
A beautiful gem. Short, passionate, lucid, and entertaining.
This book does more than explain the history of proposed solutions to an important question. It details the personalities behind this history. One gains insights into the character of luminaries such as Huxley, Kropotkin, Price, and many others.

What was the question, or puzzle?

How could natural selection produce altruism in nature? It just does not seem to make sense. Intelligent Design loons are always saying as much.

Fortunately, the answer has been known since 1964. The key is in William Hamilton's 'simple' equation RxB-C>O.
Dugatkin admirably discusses the history behind the equation and speculates as to why earlier theorists like Fisher, Haldane, or Wright did not think of it.

For readers who love books like The Selfish Gene, Good Natured, or Moral Minds, this book makes a nice compliment. For those who hate math (myself!!) and want a gentle introduction to Hamilton's rule, it is essential.

If I may make one last point, I have to express some concern with the excessive obsession with quantification in some quarters. I really have not seen a difficult quantitative theory of human behavior that allowed any insights that could not be expressed in clear english. I might be wrong here, but I think the obsession with mathematical jargon keeps theorists from testing (or taking seriously) verbal arguments. Zahavi's handicap principle is a great case in point. Nobody really put that much stock into it until Grafen mathematized the theory. Unfortunately, nobody, save a few, could understand his formulas. Well, it turns out that Grafen's math may not be the best way to look at the problem (see Thomas Getty). So I think it wise that Dugatkin sticks to verbal exposition, and I encourage fledglings to think through their ideas with clear verbal logic before using esoteric math. If Dugatkin's book showed me anything, it was that complex phenomena often have simple explanations. No need to make things more difficult than they need to be. (yes, I know it makes you look smart and cool to use differential equations and bayesian statistics, but cool does not mean correct.)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New Learning, April 10, 2009
This review is from: The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness (Hardcover)
For someone like me who has a tendency towards idealism this book was an important read. I began to learn of the significant contribution of kinship in altruism - Hamilton's Rule. The writer presents an excellent historical overview and background to this mathematical formula It rooted altruism in Darwin's theory of Natural Selection i.e. Evolution. I held the view that humans were predominantly social with only some influence from hereditary factors. The writer presents clearly and concretely the importance of genetic factors in the development of altruism. I did momentarily despair for those of us who have been adopted, abandoned, and/or are stepchildren. This book has wetted my apetite to find out more about this subject with its excellent references and bibliography. I will be examing works by Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene), Robert Axelrod (The Evolution of Cooperation)and revisiting Sigmund Freud. Maybe now I can begin to be more realistic about human beings and still retain some of my idealism - that is my challenge after reading this book. I would strongly recommend it for those idealists who grapple with the painful reality of the repetition of history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reads a bit like seven biographies, December 31, 2008
This review is from: The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness (Hardcover)
I read this book to learn about altruism, but I think I actually learned more about the seven scientists who studied this concept. I learned some interesting facts about evolutionary theory's treatment of altruism for a paper I am writing for school, but I think I enjoyed reading about the personal lives of the scientists even more. I would recommend this easy to read, relatively short, book to anyone interested in the history of scientific ideas.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Nice summary, June 5, 2013
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A very nice summary of the quest to understand biological altruism form the early work of Darwin, to the mathematical modeling of Hamilton and others. The book captures the essence of the ideas behind the models and contains multiple, entertaining personal stories of these magnificent scientists. Overall, a terrific read, both on the scientific and human aspects of such profound question.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A nice history of kin selection theory, April 19, 2012
By 
Tim Tyler (Boston, USA.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness (Hardcover)
The book has a fairly self-explanatory title. The Altruism Equation of the title is Hamilton's rule - and there are seven scientists on the cover - namely Charles Darwin, Warder Clyde Allee, T.H. Huxley, William Hamilton, Petr Kropotkin, George Price and J.B.S. Haldane.

The first six chapters are about these seven fellows - with the material on Huxley and Kropotkin being combined into one chapter.

Then there's three more chapters, one about the popularisation of science relating to altruism by Dawkins, Ed Wilson and others, one on extensions of Hamilton's ideas by Emlen, Sherman and Reeve, and then the last chapter is on Robert Axelrod and his work with Bill Hamilton.

The book is very readable and well written. However, the readability stems partly from the book's use of personal narratives about the scientists involved. Personally, I really wanted less biography and more science. I ideally want a firehose presentation of the ideas involved - and this book isn't like that - there's quite a lot of history and biography in it.

I read it because of my own interest in altruism and kin selection. I knew from the author's previous book on imitation that he knew a few things about memes. I was interested to see how he linked memes and altruism - and memes and kin selection.

However, the book isn't a general book about altruism. It's really a book about the history associated with Hamilton's solution to the altruism issue involving kin selection. Though it discusses subsequent extensions of Hamilton's ideas, the idea that kin selection and inclusive fitness theory might apply to memes as well as genes receives no coverage. Nor is there any coverage of the large effect of culture on altruistic behaviour. So: many of my hopes while reading the book were rather disappointed.

I learned quite a few bits of history from the book. I already knew most of the material about Hamilton and Price, but I hadn't even heard of Warder Clyde Allee before, and much of the unfamiliar material was interesting - it even made me expand my own thoughts about the reasons why organisms clump together.

I felt as though the book had a bit of an identity crisis. It seemed as though it was a book on the general topic of altruism that had got scaled back part way through the project, so it only covered the material up to the 1970s. It wasn't really all about kin selection - since it had a bunch of material about Axelrod, tit-for-tat and reciprocity - but then it just stopped. Since the book was written in 2006 quite a bit has happened since the 1980s - but most of that isn't covered. I was left wondering whether there would ever be coverage of topics such as reputations, manipulation, tag-based cooperation and the impact of culture in a second volume.

Anyway, despite the slight identity crisis, this is a fine and very readable book on the topic of altruism - and especially kin altruism.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting, September 5, 2011
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This review is from: The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness (Hardcover)
If you've ever wondered why parents do stuff for their children or why you feel responsible for people who you don't know that well or just wonder why humanity in general works so damn well interacting with each other, then this is the book for you!
It is very scientific and the stories and biographies that are told are interesting.
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4 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Little or no equation, June 8, 2007
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This review is from: The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness (Hardcover)
An interesting collection of short related stories, but scarcely a mention of the actual equation, which is really trivial, or its development. Pity - a lost opportunity.

A future edition could usefully include a few math appendices so the average scientist can see what all the fuss is about.
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1 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Special difficulty that does prove fatal, October 2, 2006
This review is from: The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness (Hardcover)
This is a useful and interesting account of the kin selection problem in biology from the time of Darwin onward. It is interesting how Darwinists tend to avoid public discussion of this question because it shows the agenda of Darwinists and the plain fact that the phenomenon of altruism falsifies the generalizations about natural selection. If people were more generally aware of this side of the question a reaction as common sense might help to put the evolution debate in perspective. At first sight the progression of trick arguments designed to save Darwinism, from Darwin himself to Hamilton, seem to come to the rescue, at least to positivistic scientists, but in fact these arguments are a front for the great void in Darwin's theory. Part of the problem is that not enough people can handle the math for the equations produced by Hamilton and that makes the snowjob of the experts fairly easy to bring off. But the problem remains and is direct, a point sensed immediately by Kropotkin, who is discussed in the book. The problem is that you must explain altruism! And not explain it away. To explain altruism you must explain the evolution of consciousness, and an ethical consciousness, primitive to complex,able to make branching decisions based on issues of values. Darwinism is totally unable to even define this kind of explanation and sticks its head in the sand, content to brandish this ridiculous line of argument where selfishness is made to explain its opposite. Armed with this deuce Darwinists wish to take on the entire spiritual tradition of mankind. Small wonder they become a bit timid. Don't be intimidated by this superficial appearance of scientific rigor. The whole argument is speculative and completely unverified in the evolution of man. In fact, we see the ideology of classical liberalism at work here in direct and naked clarity.
The human psychological apparatus is a complex and subtle instrument with many dimensions of consciousness. Don't let Darwinists get away with this kind of simplistic reductionism that refuses to even attempt a real understanding of evolution.
The rating given represents a challenge to this kind of thinking while the book itself as such is a useful, if perverse, addition to the literature and the debate (and a long time coming).
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The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness
The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness by Lee Alan Dugatkin (Hardcover - September 10, 2006)
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