John Maynard Smith


John Maynard Smith : biography

df=y June 1 – 19 April 2004

Maynard Smith then took a change of career, entering University College London (UCL) to study fruit fly genetics under Haldane. After graduating he became a lecturer in Zoology at UCL between 1952 and 1965, where he directed the Drosophila lab and conducted research on population genetics. He published a popular Penguin book, The Theory of Evolution, in 1958 (with subsequent editions in 1966, 1975, 1993).

He became gradually less attracted to communism and became a less active member, finally leaving the Party in 1956 like many other intellectuals, after the Soviet Union brutally suppressed the Hungarian Revolution (Haldane had left the party in 1950 after becoming similarly disillusioned).

University of Sussex

In 1962 he was one of the founding members of the University of Sussex and was a Dean between 1965–85. He subsequently became a professor emeritus. Prior to his death the building housing much of Life Sciences at Sussex was renamed the John Maynard Smith Building, in his honour.

Evolution and the Theory of Games

In 1973 Maynard Smith formalised a central concept in evolutionary game theory called the evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS), based on a verbal argument by George R. Price. This area of research culminated in his 1982 book Evolution and the Theory of Games. The Hawk-Dove game is arguably his single most influential game theoretical model.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1977. In 1986 he was awarded the Darwin Medal. He also developed and recovered from colon cancer.

Evolution of sex and other major transitions in evolution

Maynard Smith published a book entitled The Evolution of Sex which explored in mathematical terms, the notion of the "two-fold cost of sex". During the late 1980s he also became interested in the other major evolutionary transitions with the biochemist Eörs Szathmáry. Together they wrote an influential 1995 book The Major Transitions in Evolution, a seminal work which continues to contribute to ongoing issues in evolutionary biology. Also ISBN 978-1-84046-780-2 A popular science version of the book, entitled The Origins of Life: From the birth of life to the origin of language was published in 1999.

In 1991 he was awarded the Balzan Prize for Genetics and Evolution "For his powerful analysis of evolutionary theory and of the role of sexual reproduction as a critical factor in evolution and in the survival of species; for his mathematical models applying the theory of games to evolutionary problems" (motivation of the Balzan General Prize Committee). In 1995 he was awarded the Linnean Medal by The Linnean Society and in 1999 he was awarded the Crafoord Prize jointly with Ernst Mayr and George C. Williams. In 2001 he was awarded the Kyoto Prize.

In his honour, the European Society for Evolutionary Biology has an award for extraordinary young evolutionary biology researchers named The John Maynard Smith Prize.

Animal Signals

His final book, Animal Signals, co-authored with David Harper was published in 2003 on signalling theory.


He died of mesothelioma, sitting in a high-backed chair, surrounded by books—at his home in Lewes, East Sussex on 19 April 2004. He was survived by his wife Sheila and their children.