Sunday, January 13, 2008

W. D. Hamilton biography now out!   posted by Razib @ 1/13/2008 12:20:00 AM

Just noticed that Nature's Oracle: A Life of W. D. Hamilton is finally out. I haven't read it yet, but will have soon once my copy arrives. If you don't know who W. D. Hamilton is, you know his work. Hamilton's early theoretical papers on the evolution of sociality (e.g., kin selection) were the root of many of the ideas presented by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, while his later ideas about the origins of sex figured in the background of Matt Ridley's The Red Queen. If you wish to familiarize yourself more directly with Hamilton's science and life, I highly recommend his collections of papers with commentary, Narrow Roads of Gene Land, Volume 1: Evolution of Social Behaviour, Narrow Roads of Gene Land, Volume 2: Evolution of Sex and Narrow Roads of Gene Land, Volume 3: Last Words (you will sometimes find cheap copies on Ebay or in used book stores). The author of Nature's Oracle, Ullica Segerstrale, is a sociologist of science (with a background in chemistry) who wrote Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate. Hamilton is second only to E. O. Wilson in Segerstrale's narrative, so it is no surprise that she would choose to focus on him now. In the end I suppose the greatest tribute to a scientist is to remember their intellectual contributions and integrate them so thoroughly into contemporary thought that they become background assumptions; but as humans we are interested in personal narrative, and I look forward to exploring the more human (and eccentric) aspects of W. D. Hamilton's character. Though it does nothing to further understanding of science as such, it seems fitting to remember the man.

Related: Richard Dawkins' euology for Hamilton.

Update: I lied! Turns out that the pub date on the Amazon page is wrong and it won't come out until mid-March. Don't blog 'till you "checkout."