A carefully written and surprising biography of one of science's unsung heroes.

NATURE'S ORACLE

A LIFE OF W.D. HAMILTON

Biography of W.D. Hamilton (1936–2000), a revolutionary thinker and scientist whose outlier methods and ideas isolated him from the scientific establishment; he would later be vindicated as a brilliant contributor to evolutionary biology.

For all of Darwin's brilliance, his theories were incomplete: Tricky concepts like altruism and kin selection—even Richard Dawkins' "selfish gene"—were left for future generations to unravel. Hamilton, a mathematician and evolutionary biologist, spent his life in passionate pursuit of clues as to why evolution operates to ensure the survival of the genes of an organism and not the survival of the organism itself. By 1964, while still a graduate student, Hamilton had worked out an elegant mathematical solution, but he struggled to get his peers to see its innovation and prescience. Hamilton struggled to conform to institutional practices and persisted in pursuing unpopular truths he felt were paramount to scientific progress. The result is a body of work rich with insight, and since his death, his work has since been hailed as yielding critical insights to theories of animal altruism. Segerstrale (Defenders of the Truth: The Battle for Science in the Sociobiology Debate and Beyond, 2000, etc.) provides a uniquely personal account of Hamilton's adventurous and iconoclastic life, drawing from a rich collection of papers, correspondence, and interviews with family members and colleagues. Her nuanced, linear storytelling reveals a man of complicated genius unusually attuned to the entanglements of science and ethics. Throughout his career, Hamilton traveled across the world, and his experiences with different cultures and creatures had a profound effect on his philosophy. He spent time in the Congo collecting data to support the polio vaccine theory of the origin of AIDS, an issue few others dared broach due to its controversial social and medical implications. The author brings to light the courageous and empathetic character behind the misunderstood and retrospectively appreciated scientist.

A carefully written and surprising biography of one of science's unsung heroes.

Pub Date: March 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-19-860727-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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