Bar-Ilan University professor Oren Harman won a 2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prize last weekend for “The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness” (W.W. Norton and Co.), his biography of the tormented American evolutionary theorist who tried to crack the mystery of why humans can be altruistic and was devastated by the results. The book, which was also named by The New York Times as one of the 100 most notable books of 2010, traces previous attempts to discover why people perform selfless acts, in conflict with Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest.
An atheist-turned-Evangelical Christian who discovered as an adult that his father was Jewish, Price created a mathematical formula that took altruism into account within natural selection, only to become despondent when he concluded that what might look like kindness was actually disguised selfishness. His own subsequent attempts to live a truly selfless life led to his giving away all of his possessions, becoming homeless and to his suicide in 1975, at age 52.
Harman, 38, chairs Bar-Ilan’s science, technology and society graduate program.