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The Complete Idiot's Guide to Game Theory (Idiot's Guides) Paperback – March 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Edward C. Rosenthal, Ph.D., is an award winning professor in the Fox School of Business and Management at Temple University. His work has been published in such journals as International Journal of Game Theory, Journal of Public Economics, European Journal of Operational Research, Games and Economic Behavior, The Energy Journal, Theory and Decision, Social Networks, and Decision Sciences.


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Product Details

  • Series: Idiot's Guides
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: ALPHA (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 161564055X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1615640553
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.4 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #398,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Welcome to Ed Rosenthal's bio page!

If you're here, obviously you wanted to find out more about me or about my books. So, here's some personal stuff: I was born in Manhattan and attended Stuyvesant High School. Like many kids there, I loved math and science - and everything else, except maybe for diagramming sentences in English class. (But don't let that fool you - I always loved to write, and even wrote a suspense thriller when I was 10. That one, though, you won't find on Amazon.)

I went on to study mathematics, physics, computer science, and philosophy at the State University of New York at Albany. I majored in mathematics and made computer science my official minor.

In college I realized that I wanted to become a professor. I was warned that you either publish or perish - and it's true - but where else do you get paid to learn about cool stuff all day long, solve problems, write articles, and teach people too! So I went off to graduate school at Northwestern University to study optimization and theoretical computer science.

Along the way I fell in love with game theory and wrote my Ph.D. thesis on cooperative (cost sharing) games that arise from network optimization problems. Since then I've taught management science and operations management at Temple University. This has worked out great for me, because Temple is a buzzing and vibrant urban campus in a city (Philadelphia, in case you are from the Left Coast) that is definitely on the rise.

One idea that has totally captivated me since I was 19 years old is that nowadays, people have way, way more choice in their lives than they ever had before. You can choose your career, choose your companions, choose your dinner . . . all of which were very difficult to do, say, 100 years ago, not to mention 1,000 years ago. The question is, how does this ability to choose so many things in our lives impact the way we live and think?

This fascination with choice led me to write my first book, The Era of Choice: The Ability to Choose and its Transformation of Contemporary Life, which was published by MIT Press in 2005. In the book I show that the way we think about things - not just everyday stuff, but cultural and intellectual ideas too - has been utterly transformed by the wealth of choices in our lives. Many of the changes are wonderful, but sometimes, people really think they can have their cake and eat it too, and this can set us up for some major disappointment.

Since writing The Era of Choice I've watched our world continue to change at warp speed: for example, in just these last half-dozen years, most of us over the age of 12 have become reduced to being slightly bent over all the time, peering down at small digital devices that we clutch desperately. How could we have such wide-ranging choice in our lives, and yet end up captive to these things 24/7? Sounds like another book in the

My other longtime fascination has been with decision making. How can we figure out the best decisions? Why do we end up making the decisions that we do? What role does randomness play? How often do our emotions tangle with our higher-order, "rational" cogitation? Do our decisions clash with those of others?

If these questions fascinate you as well, then maybe you need to discover your inner game theorist. By chance, as it turns out, I had the wonderful opportunity recently to write The Complete Idiot's Guide to Game Theory.

What's game theory about? One angle on it, as I mention in the Complete Idiot's Guide, is that it's about competition, money, and guile. But more precisely, game theory is a mathematical approach to decision making in the presence of conflict and uncertainty. Simply put: how can you make the best decision you can, when
(1.) others may be working against you, and
(2.) you're not sure what's going to happen next?

In a nutshell, that's what game theory is about. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Game Theory is a serious and comprehensive book that surveys this broad subject. If you check out the "Look Inside" feature for my book on, you'll not only find the Table of Contents but you'll also get a good idea of my writing style and the book's level of difficulty.

About that: if you are a Ph.D. student in economics, the CIG to Game Theory will be a fun and informative read but it won't help you with the starred problems you have to do for homework. But the CIG isn't a Ph.D. level book, is it?

For the rest of us, the CIG to Game Theory is a solid introduction. You will learn some concrete techniques, from solving nonzero sum games to cooperative game solutions to auction strategy. You'll also get an introduction to a wide range of topics, from adverse selection to the role of information to repeated games, even to more specialized topics such as mechanism design. And, in addition to learning the theory - how people should act in these situations - you'll learn how people actually behave. An entire section of the book is devoted to behavioral games, far exceeding what you'd learn in competing titles.

Finally, the key thing is this: I make sure, I really do, that everybody can do the math.

Thank you for spending some time with me.

All the best,
Ed Rosenthal

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Aryabhata on May 8, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Imagine the perfect pound cake, with the just-right mixture of substance and sweetness, moisture and flakiness, crust and interior. The title of my review, Perfect Information, may be an inside joke, being a well-defined term in game theory but it is also an apt description of Ed Rosenthal's engaging introduction to a difficult subject. In most other treatments, Game Theory is presented in a format that is either bone dry, too mathematical, or too superficial. The author, an award-winning teacher and research scholar in the field and the veteran of thousands of classroom experiences teaching Game Theory and related subjects, manages to avoid all these extremes, delivering a text that has the perfect blend of theory, illustrative example, and intuitive explanation.

The Subject: Important with Wide-Ranging Applications
Game theory is an increasingly important discipline that applies mathematics to everyday decision making. It provides important insights into such diverse areas as military strategy, economics, biology and public policy. And its results provide important insights into how humans interact with each other. It provides a theoretical framework for thinking about key issues such as competition vs cooperation, information sharing, and rationality (or its lack) in decision making.

Style and Substance: An Easy Engaging Style with lots of Examples and Case Studies
Unlike most other introductions to Game Theory, the book grabs you on almost every page by its liberal use of case studies, examples, and intuition-building discussion of the key concepts.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By KP on April 24, 2011
Format: Paperback
Rosenthal has written an excellent book. It covers a lot of ground, but is truly accessible to the non-mathematical reader. To my surprise, avoiding mathematics does not detract from the message. The carefully constructed numerical examples more than make up for it.
In the first place, I want to complement the author on the range of topics he covers. He starts with the well-known concepts in game theory, such as Prisoner's Dilemma. But he moves on to the most interesting generalisations, such as Nash equilibrium and Pareto optimality. Even more interesting, he addresses topics which are still being actively researched, such as games with incomplete information. Also, unlike some other writers, Rosenthal has also covered cooperative games, which involve sharing of rewards.
Personally, what I found most appealing is the range of applications he discusses. Rosenthal is clearly widely read and his erudition shows through. Voting, auctions, biology as well as many everyday situations all show up all over the book. In particular, I find the examples from evolution theory particularly interesting. Even specialists in these areas who are not mathematically knowledgeable would benefit from reading and understanding the concepts in game theory.
Finally, game theory has a history of dense writing, starting with Von Neumann and Morgensten's unreadable tome. This book goes a long way towards remedying that.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By history joan on March 10, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I just read "Game Theory" and it is an excellent book.

The balance of math with theory, and the history and commentary is outstanding.

The blending of the history of game theory (and most of it is pretty recent, or is that my age??) and the math is very well done.

The author's commentary and thoughts finally bring game theory out of the world of math to something very tangible which I could understand-- usually I read history stuff.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Martin Czigler on June 4, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What I like most about this book was the wide variety of applications and the diversity of examples, including examples ripped from recent headlines. Also, I couldn't help but think of immediate applications I'd otherwise never have though of. For example, my company is going through a spasm of voluntary early retirement (offering a bonus) and involuntary layoffs (which don't), but the probability of getting laid off depends on how many other people take early retirement. A lot of strategizing going on right now.

This book does an excellent job of building intuition for the basic game theory cases (zero sum, Prisoner's Dilemma and other non-zero sum games), then guiding the reader to broader and broader situations -- imperfect information and signalling, cooperative games and fair division problems, voting systems, auctions. These cases and their solution approaches are explained clearly and in an engaging style. There are many examples, including several very interesting real-world case studies, for example Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD, Cuba missile crisis, tobacco advertising, various elections, auctions for transmission rights, Coke vs. Pepsi, and many others. One important theme is that lose-lose situations can sometimes be transformed into something better, for example by building trust among parties.

The last section expands to very wide-ranging and unexpected applications. For example, game theory models are now successfully used by biologists both at the level of individual organisms and of entire populations. Paradoxes of traditional economic behavioural assumptions are addressed, with discussion of both alternative theoretical models and the fascinating results of game theory experiments that test those alternatives.
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