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Reasons for Being Nice and Having Sex

Andrew Berry: W.D. Hamilton, 6 February 2003

Narrow Roads of Gene Land: The Collected Papers of W.D. Hamilton. Vol. II: The Evolution of Sex 
by W.D. Hamilton.
Oxford, 872 pp., £50, January 2001, 0 19 850336 9
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... Early in the first volume of his collected papers, the evolutionary biologist W.D. Hamilton retells a Victorian joke. Two ladies are conversing, and one says: ‘Have you heard that Mr Darwin says we are all descended from an ape?’ The other replies: ‘Oh, my dear – that surely cannot be true! … But, if it should be true, let us pray that at least it will not become generally known!’ Hamilton sees this response as being as relevant today as it was then: people have ‘an instant, automatic wish for both the evidence and the idea to go away’ because evolutionary notions ‘have the unfortunate property of being solvents of a vital societal glue ...

Boy or Girl

John Maynard Smith, 3 February 1983

The Theory of Sex Allocation 
by Eric Charnov.
Princeton, 355 pp., £29.80, December 1982, 0 691 08311 8
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... at least in these insects. The first major advance in sex ratio theory after Fisher was made by W.D. Hamilton, who realised that Fisher had made a tacit assumption about the breeding system. The nature of the assumption is best seen by considering an exception. Suppose that the offspring of a particular female always mate among themselves, brother with ...

Altruists at War

W.G. Runciman: Human Reciprocity, 23 February 2012

A Co-operative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution 
by Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis.
Princeton, 262 pp., £24.95, July 2011, 978 0 691 15125 0
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... benefit of the group to which the individual belongs. That question was effectively disposed of by W.D. Hamilton and others, who showed how altruism, as a strategy transmitted either genetically or culturally (or both), can spread in a population provided that its carriers are more likely than they would be by chance to ...

Genes and Memes

John Maynard Smith, 4 February 1982

The Extended Phenotype 
by Richard Dawkins.
Freeman, 307 pp., £9.95, December 1981, 0 7167 1358 6
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... contains no mathematics at all. What it does offer is a new world view. Although the book has been widely read and enjoyed, it has also aroused strong hostility. Much of this hostility arises, I believe, from misunderstanding, or rather, from several misunderstandings. Of these, the most fundamental is a failure to understand what the book is about. It is a ...

Disturbingly Slender Waists

Miriam Rothschild, 25 October 1990

The Ants 
by Bert Hölldobler and E.O. Wilson.
Springer, 732 pp., DM 198, March 1990, 3 540 52092 9
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... of the biomass of the tropical rainforests of the Brazilian Amazon. Wilson ascribes their worldwide ecological dominance (they are only absent from the tops of the highest mountains, Antarctica, Iceland, Greenland and Polynesia east of Tonga) to their close connection with the ground: ‘the first group of eusocial predatory insects that lived and foraged ...

Main Man

Michael Hofmann, 7 July 1994

Walking Possession: Essays and Reviews 1968-1993 
by Ian Hamilton.
Bloomsbury, 302 pp., £20, May 1994, 0 7475 1712 6
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Gazza Italia 
by Ian Hamilton.
Granta, 188 pp., £5.99, May 1994, 0 14 014073 5
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... company, and by me: Joseph Brodsky, Tom Paulin and, most intimately though I knew him least, Ian Hamilton. When I sent him a copy of my first book, I realised I’d even purloined his initials for my title. I wasn’t of an age to have been reading, never mind submitting to, his magazines, The Review and The New Review, but when I started publishing around ...

Follow-the-Leader

Colm Tóibín: Bishop v. Lowell, 14 May 2009

Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell 
edited by Thomas Travisano and Saskia Hamilton.
Faber, 875 pp., £40, November 2008, 978 0 571 24308 2
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... so that she could find the right tone and form for it. She was never sure. In his poem Lowell allowed the scream of Bishop’s story to become almost a shriek. He was right to feel that Bishop could have made ‘a really great poem’ from this material. It was an essential aspect of her talent, indeed of her great reticent gift as a poet, however, that she ...

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