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The Evolution of Cooperation Paperback – 11 Sep 1985


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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (11 Sep 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465021212
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465021215
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13.6 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,007,756 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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UNDER WHAT CONDITIONS will cooperation emerge in a world of egoists without central authority? Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By PROF M. COOPER on 3 May 2011
Format: Paperback
As Richard Dawkins puts it, this really feels like one of the most important books of modern times, and a text that should be essential reading from school age up. Drawing on the findings from the most simple of game scenarios -- the Prisoner's Dilemma -- it maps out some crucial lessons for how individuals, and societies, can enhance their wellbeing: forgive easily, communicate clearly, don't be the first to let someone down, stay in contact and retaliate/be assertive if you have to be. More than that, it shows how cooperative strategies actually have greater longevity and stability than more competitive ones, and in that respect heralds the possibility of a fairer, more enduring society. The maths may be a bit tricky for some readers, and some bits are a touch repetitive, but it really is worth sticking with (and applying!).
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Primoz Peterlin on 2 May 2000
Format: Paperback
Sometimes, the individual benefit seems to conflict with the benefit of the community as a whole, even though the community includes this very individuum. One such example has been formulated as the Prisonner's Dilemma: two suspects, A and B, are arrested, and kept separated so that they cannot communicate. If they continue to cooperate, they will be both sentenced to one year. However, if suspect A cooperates, but suspect B defects, A is going to be sentenced to five years, and suspect B will be released. Vice versa, if B cooperates and A defects, A will be released and B sentenced to five years. Finally, if both defect, they will both be sentenced to three years each.

It is clear that the best solution for both of them is cooperation. On the other hand, each individual is also tempted to maximize his own individual benefit. And each of them benefits most if he decides to defect, which in turn brings the worst possible outcome for both (six years total). So one-shot Prisonner's Dilemma rarely leads to cooperation. Now, what if the very two chaps are later arrested again? Will they cooperate when given another chance? And if they know they will face the same situation every five years? Professor Axelrod tested the iterated Prisonner's Dilemma with computer programs, and investigated under which circumstances cooperation can emerge.

The book is nicely scattered with fragments of game theory and examples from world politics. All in all, as Richard Dawkins has commented in the foreword to the Penguin edition of this book, in breathes with optimism, and is a delight to read. Still, it has one problem, and actually shares it with Dawkins: the book reaches its climax right at the beginning. The book starts with a strong and very convincing idea, but later fails to keep the same pace of dynamic. The idea is splendid, but the structure of the book could be improved.
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Format: Paperback
I have to admit this is not a riveting read. It is largely a factual description of experiments Axelrod carried out over a number of years, with a variety of experts competing to find the most successful tactics in games of iterated prisoner's dilemma.

[...]%27s_dilemma

However the outcome of the research is truly eye-opening and fascinating. Unlike a single round game of prisoner's dilemma (where co-operation is, to say the least, dangerous), the most successful tactics were to co-operate rather than act selfishly, unless that co-operative behaviour was abused by the other player (in which case neither player would do very well). Axelrod also shows how co-operation can spread through a network squeezing out selfish behaviour.

You know the book has to be worth a read when Richard Dawkin's, author of the Selfish Gene, writes in the introduction:

"THIS IS A book of optimism. But it is believable, realistic optimism... As Darwinians we start pessimistically by assuming deep selfishness, pitiless indifference to suffering, ruthless heed to individual success. And yet from such warped beginnings, something that is in effect, if not necessarily in intention, close to amicable brotherhood and sisterhood can come. This is the uplifting message of Robert Axelrod's remarkable book."

There we are, a book to save Dawkins from himself - has to be good.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By AVS on 1 July 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was recommended by my course but I did not find it an interesting read. It was not the easiest to understand but that could just be me too as I did not find this topic interesting.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Dalby VINE VOICE on 27 Feb 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Axelrod describes how cooperation can arise even between adversaries (the example he gives is the "live and let live" strategies adopted by soldiers in the trenches on the Western Front). The model he uses is the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma. The two most important aspects of this model is that players do no know when the game will end and as a corollary of this players expect to have a future interaction. Axelrod held a contest between Game Theorists to find the best solution to the model and a strategy called "Tit for Tat" won. In the next round contestants tried to beat or exploit "Tit for Tat" and it still one. Axelrod explains why and also shows how this model is stable even to spatial invasions and how it can arise even from a population of meanies.

His work is easily accessible and non-technical. It is a great example of how simple rules can produce complex behaviours. If you are interested in politics, international relations, or just in getting the most from your personal interactions then you should read this book. The one weak point is chapter 5 which takes a view of molecular biology which has subsequently been shown to be over-speculative and in many aspects wrong. However skipping this chapter does not affect the coherence of the rest of the book.
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