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2.6 out of 5 stars
Game Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 11 August 2010
I bought this book because I am curious about the field, but a dozen pages in and I was worse than lost. All of the games are only briefly mentioned, never clearly explained and the implications are never discussed. The author spends more time attacking opponents of game theory and bragging about his successes in using it than teaching the reader about the topic.
I enjoy this series of books because they allow access and understanding of the basics of subject which are otherwise difficult to understand. This book is the exception to that and seems to enjoy its impenetrability, I am still no wiser to the basics of game theory and will consider buying introductions by other publishers in future.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 1 February 2013
I found this the worst Very Short Introductions of several I read so far. It seems to have important bits cut off: much more care should have been taken in the first few chapters. Not even the notation of the diagrams is explained. Not recommended. Th eonly chapter I enjoyed is a middle one on game theory in biology, but I suppose that has most to do with my curiosity in the topic. Missed opportunity!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 May 2013
I brought and read this book following read A Very Short Introduction to Choice Theory. The choice theory book had a chapter on game theory which was interesting and I thought that I would enjoy A Very Short Introduction to Game Theory. I would say however this VSI is rather below par. It is certainly not all bad and a number of the chapters such as the one on conventions were well written and easy to understand, however other chapter are not so.

Some of the ideas are expressed in the form of diagrams and as such I it is important to understand the diagrams to see what Binmore is driving at otherwise it is likely that the subject matter will just wash over you, but understanding the diagrams is not all that easy. The same is true of mathematical examples that are given. The problem seems to stem from the lack of space in this book. as such the space required to explain the mathematics or the diagrams is not available and in many cases I have to admit that I cannot work out some of the mathematical examples and this has rather undermined my confidence in my mathematical abilities, something that should be considered a real failing in an introductory book as introductory books should be about building confidence and enthusiasm. This is further compound by the fact I have found genuine mistakes in this book indicating real editing problems. One concept I have consistently struggled with is that of indifference between two pure strategies. This concept is important to understand in terms of mixed strategies (i.e. mixing your pure strategies in an optimal ratio). This is certainly an area where a more expansive explanation would have been useful. Personally I do not see if it is all about the payoffs or the probabilities of receiving those payoffs or are combination of both. As this volume was rather long meant that there was not room at the end of the book for a glossary that is a useful addition to other VSIs and something this VSI would have benefited from.

I question who the target audience for this book are. having read it twice and have struggled with it hard I think it is more aimed at those who are studying a maths degree, perhaps 1st year maths students or perhaps people with an innate ability in maths greater than my own (I certainly do not lay claim to much ability). If you are a general interest reader who would like to learn something about game theory this might not be the book for you. If you do wish to persist I have attached some notes (as comments) on mistakes, my interpretations of some of the diagrams and some of my mathematical workings (please don't laugh if my approach is all wrong - I was trying to understand the maths with little help from Binmore)

I would like to point out that Binmore seems to enjoy taking pot shots at Immanuel Kant throughout this book. I only raise this point as Binmore is rather self-congratulatory and immodest in his belief that he has proved Kant wrong and that his book on morals causes offence to some moral philosophers. I think Binmore's attitude is rather off putting and I believe his position is based on a misunderstanding, conflating categorical and hypothetical imperatives (I've added a 3rd comment to explain this further if anyone is interested).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 1 December 2010
I tried to like this book but it basically fails to do its job. He writes quite well but to put it simply it is useless as an introduction to game theory. He doesn't explain it at a simple enough level for the general reader.
There are other books that do a far better job.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 June 2011
In my opinion, as well any "A short introduction to..." books, they kill the joy out of the subject. I found it mundane. I bought this as preliminary reading for university, however it has bored me completely. I had to read sections at least 4 times to gain a vague understanding of it. I would not recommend it even though the price is OK- go for a better book which might cost a bit more!!
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49 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on 27 February 2008
This is my first text on Game Theory after reading a small section on it in another book. My IQ is MENSA tested & eligible for membership, i have a first class engineering degree & professional engineering qualifications. Binmore is indeed over-confident, however I can forgive that, it is not a limiting factor. The text is indeed very difficult and very poorly written, and by the end of the first few pages, the huge gaps in explanation render the book little more than useless. The first chapter starts with some simple games, however the lack of detailed explanation of their construction & outcome begs the question what is this book for? The Driver Game lacks deconstruction, the Chicken Game gets worse and after that, the lack of a basic explanation of the concepts prevents any further understanding. I would certainly not recommend this book to anyone. I would have thought it better that the author make crystal clear the basics in a layman's book, rather than hitting the reader with hardcore theory. A very, very poor book and certainly not for the layman.
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on 29 December 2011
As some reviewers pointed out, there are some challenges in this book due to some of the diagrams being wrong and the text sometimes being difficult to understand. If one manages to get through those obstacles the book is a wonderful overview of the fascinating yet difficult topic of game theory. One of the best features is its breath. The introduction spans from classical zero sum games to cooperative games, evolutionary game theory, empirical game theory, ethics and misguided criticism against game theory. Especially in this latter aspect, Binmore is outstanding in explaining typical misunderstandings about game theory. Binmore is also a very good storyteller, supplying the technical presentations with comments about some of the most influencial theory developers. Among the non-technical introductory books on game theory I have read, this one is by far the best.
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on 19 May 2014
I got this book with a measure of trepidation having read the other reviews. From what I could gather this was an impenetrable text which would yield no understanding whatsoever. Given that I'm not so hot at maths I didn't know if it'd be helpful, but I needed some kind of beginners text on Game Theory so that I could figure out what on earth was being talked about in my law and economics papers.

I was very pleasantly surprised. Granted, I didn't get everything straight away, and unlike most other Very Short Introductions, which I was usually able to shoot through in one reading, I found myself puzzling over some of the stuff in this one. However, with a bit of effort I finally figured it out. The book is tough, but so is the subject matter. If you're prepared to spend some time, often frustrating time, with this book, you'll get a lot out of it.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 10 March 2010
The book took me probably two or three attempts to 'get into' it. It was hard going at times, and a number of times i had to get a pencil and paper out to work through and make sure that i deeply understood the text. That said, the quality of the what's written is, i have no doubt, precise (in a mathematical context) and once you get used to the way Binmore writes is good. (although i understand that's a big ask)

Despite being hard going at times, it also had it's moments of absolute clarity. He goes through a broad range of topics: What a 'game' is in a mathematical sense; effect of chance, time, repeated games and the effect that has on players perception of strategy; Information, and what players can learn about the other players based on what they do; Auctions; Evolutionary Biology (very interesting), and how game theory can accurately predict/explain why animals do some actions, or why people are altruistic or why people would put themselves in harms way to save others. Bargaining and coalitions (not my personal favourite) and a short section on puzzles and paradoxes at the end, which it thought was a nice way to round off a book like this.

As the book goes, Binmore also give the reader a history of game theory, so that they can appreciate the development of this branch of mathematics. I enjoyed this as it meant that i could piece together how this reletively new branch came into being and how its developed to today.

For me the major downside of some of this book is the way that it has been explained in a non-intuitive way, and some of it really does make to struggle and want to throw the book as hard as you can across the room and scream. However, like most pieces of mathematics, if you work at it and follow the reasoning through, you see why it has been written in such a convoluted way - precision. Some people might not like the idea that you have to 'work' with this book and to a point I agree, but this book isn't called "Game Theory; In simple terms" it's called "Game Theory: A Very Short Introduction" it's there to introduce you to it and to get a good grasp of the subject you'll have to work with it. And if you do, i'm sure you'll love it.

:)
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on 15 April 2008
I agree with those who rated this book poor. The author not only assumes too much of his readers' ability levels, he assumes they know things only he could know; he misses things out (I think!).
(I too am an engineering graduate. I have studied a little game theory before. I'm at least fairly bright).

The publisher should withdraw this book. It is wrong to take money for it. It is one of those where on a scale of 1 to 5 this is minus 10.

The reviewer who gave it 5 is "bm1729". Is "bm" short for Binmore's Mum?
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