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Prisoner's Dilemma: John Von Neumann, Game Theory and the Puzzle of the Bomb Paperback – 1 Jan 1993


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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books; 1st Anchor Books Ed edition (1 Jan. 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038541580X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385415804
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.9 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 139,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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63 of 64 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on 17 Dec. 2002
Format: Paperback
The enjoyment, or perhaps the utility you'll find with this book, will be directly related to how much you know about Game Theory prior to this read. This book spends, as much time on history and biography as it does on what Game Theory is about, so this work would seem to be most appropriate to those who are new to the material. I had only basic understanding of Game Theory from other books I had read, within which this field of study was mentioned, so for me the book was very worthwhile. The historical and biographic aspects of the book were not new, so there were of less interest to me.

Math need not be a passion for this book to be understood and enjoyed. The various games that are explained and, "played", for the reader actually utilize little in the way of math. Game Theory in practice is about the number of participants, the choices they have, how the games should rationally be played, and how there are played when people replace theory. The results of these games are applicable to daily life, whether it explains how a network will decide the placement of their commercials, why a person will stand in a line of unknown length, or pay more than the true value of an item (like a dollar bill). Peoples behavior often crosses from the irrational to the absurd, and many of these games will point out courses of action almost all readers will have taken at one time or another, when the rational decision was the opposite of what they chose to do.

The book is also a good primer for further reading on Bertrand Russell, John Nash the subject of the movie, "A Beautiful Mind", and John von Neumann, who many considered the most brilliant man alive during his career, and many other great scientists of the 20th Century.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Clare Topping on 2 Mar. 2010
Format: Paperback
Prisoner's Dilemma: John Von Neumann, Game Theory and the Puzzle of the Bomb

I bought this book following a short section of an economics course which used game theory and the Prisoner's Dilemma to explain decision making in areas such as cartels, collusion and advertising budgets which inspired me to learn more. However, it sat unread on my shelf for nearly a year, which I now regret because this is such an interesting text.

The author has made it part von Neumann biography, part cold war politics and part game theory and, in the main, has put it together perfectly with enough emphasis on each part to make it interesting to a wide readership.

Although I did struggle with certain sections, partly because there is possibly a little too much discussion about the different types of game theory and their likley outcomes e.g. chicken, stag hunt etc, I disagree with another reviewer that thought that the book tailed off towards the end. For me the last couple of chapters which outlined later uses of game theory in the biological and evolutionary fields were very interesting, and I am sure that there are more recent applications which build on this chapter and which this book has inspired me to look for.

In all, a very well written book that is easy to read and which shows how Game Theory is present in every day life decisions whether we realise it or not, often making human behaviour very predictable.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By DigiTAL on 5 Mar. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
John von Neumann is the father of game theory: the field which mathematicised games and other situations of conflict, in the process making them analytically tractable. Von Neumann's inspiration was simple parlour games, with poker being a prominent example. In Poundstone's words:

"Good poker players do not simply play the odds. They take into account conclusions other players will draw from their actions, and sometimes try to deceive the other players. It was von Neumann's genius to see that this devious way of playing was both rational and amenable to rigorous analysis."

John von Neumann studied a version of poker where individual poker hands are replaced by numbers between zero and one -- with higher numbers beating lower ones. He then used this model to show how players should bet their best hands, but also how they should sometimes bluff with their very worst hands. This model is still used as a representation of poker by poker theorists today.

William Poundstone's book is an entertaining biography of von Neumann, focusing primarily on his achievements in game theory, but also covering much of his work in other areas -- including his key role in the development of the A-bomb and computers.

Von Neumann's work in game theory was centred around zero-sum games: games such as poker, where any players' gain is another players' loss (the payoffs cancel out and sum up to zero). However, game theory applies to a much richer variety of problems: so called non-zero-sum games, which raise the potential for collaboration and aggregate gains or losses amongst the players. The most famous non-zero-sum is "the prisoner's dilemma", a problem so canonical that Poundstone named his book after it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 26 July 1999
Format: Paperback
This should be of interest to both readers concerned with Cold War policy and the development of game theory. Poundstone is one of the more gifted writers (at least regarding narrative skills) to address game theory, an often perplexingly technical subject, offering an interesting, fairly comprehensive introduction to the subject without becoming mired in its more technical aspects. And his characterization of von Neumann, an interesting intellect, is able and compelling.
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