From Publishers Weekly
Physicist and Ig Nobel Prize–winner Fisher (How to Dunk a Doughnut
) explores how game theory illuminates social behavior in this lively study. Developed in the 1940s, game theory is concerned with the decisions people make when confronted with competitive situations, especially when they have limited information about the other players' choices. Every competitive situation has a point called a Nash Equilibrium, in which parties cannot change their course of action without sabotaging themselves, and Fisher demonstrates that situations can be arranged so that the Nash Equilibrium is the best possible outcome for everyone. To this end, he examines how social norms and our sense of fair play can produce cooperative solutions rather than competitive ones. Fisher comes up short of solving the problem of human competitiveness, but perhaps that is too tall an order. Game theory works better as a toolkit for understanding behavior than as a rule book for directing it. Fisher does succeed in making the complex nature of game theory accessible and relevant, showing how mathematics applies to the dilemmas we face on a daily basis. (Nov.)
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Fisher, author of the entertaining and educational How to Dunk a Doughnut (2003), explores how the seemingly amorphous notion of cooperation can be explored, quantified, and even modified through the new science of game theory, which isn’t about games in the usual sense of the word. Rather, game theory concerns the strategies we use when we interact with other people. It’s about the way we manipulate situations to our own advantage; the way we negotiate and weigh our options before making decisions; the way we instinctively make split-second decisions based on myriad potential outcomes. Through a combination of real-world examples (like a traffic jam that took three days to unclog) and philosophical problems, Fisher shows us that we’re way more cooperative than we sometimes think we are, while at the same time startlingly more selfish than we ought to be. As with Doughnut, the writing is lively, the scientific discourse clear and accessible, and the ideas challenging and exciting. --David Pitt