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Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life Paperback – November 4, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (November 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465009387
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465009381
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.3 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #95,684 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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

More About the Author

Australian-born (1942), my main achievements after a life in science have been the award of an IgNobel Prize for using physics to work out the best way to dunk a biscuit, the creation of a carrot clarinet for the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, and the invention of a champagne jelly that keeps its fizz (the more serious stuff about me and my activities is on my webite at lenfisherscience.com). My books are intended to reveal what really goes on in science, and to share the science that I love, by showing how scientists think about the important and not-so-important problems of life. I now divide my time between England's West Country and the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, following the theory that an endless summer provides the best conditions for writing. The picture was taken in the mountains of Ecuador, the jumping off point for a lifelong ambition to visit the Galapagos Islands.

Customer Reviews

He couldn't have spent more than a few weeks (if that long) writing it.
Arthur Ashendorf
If you know anything about game theory at all, expect to get very bored, very fast reading this book.
C. Healey
Very good at explaining game theory in everyday situations and is, at times, enlightening.
Jon P. Cavanaugh Spain

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By David J. Aldous on May 26, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A good example of how to write at the "popular" end of the popular science spectrum. Game theory in general deals with settings in which each player has to choose one of several strategies without knowing other players' choices, and gets a payoff depending on everyone's choices (note this is rather different from what we call games in everyday language). Such games typically have a Nash equilibrium, which (roughly speaking) is the result when players behave selfishly; but there may be some different "cooperative" choices of strategies that would make everyone better off (a "social optimum"). This paradox or "logical trap" is usually illustrated by the Prisoner's Dilemma story. Observing where this situation occurs and contemplating ways of getting around them by "self-enforcing strategies" -- how cooperation might be achieved in the face of temptations to cheat -- are the main themes of the book, which is well paced and engagingly easy to read. Some highlights are

(1) Discussion of "7 deadly dilemmas" given cute names by theorists (Prisoner's Dilemma; Tragedy of the Commons; Free Rider; Chicken; Volunteer's Dilemma; Battle of the Sexes; Stag Hunt) -- models in which there is math theory.

(2) A lengthy verbal discussion of strategies to promote trust and cooperation (e.g. making it costly to change your mind later; deliberately cutting off your escape routes).

(3) Martin Nowak's 5 rules for the social evolution of cooperation.

While the in-text accounts of scientific studies in the human social world or in biology are conversationally casual, the end-notes (comprising 1/5 of the book) provide citations to the scientific literature -- a definite improvement on most books at this level.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By T. Chambers on December 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
Having just picked up this book as a game theory practitioner, I found this to be an excellent read. My work which centers primarily around the work of Thomas Schelling has led me to a variety of books on the game theory topic. Even Dr. Schelling, who has a comfortable writing style, evokes examples beyond the "everyday" realm, applicable to political and global challenges, more frequently than the cocktail parties and family life.

I found this book ties together the work of many of the top thinkers in the field, including recent Nobel Prize winners, taking a breadth rather than depth approach and at the same time provides the accessibility and application to experiences in everyday life. The few diagrams, and limited "math" will lower the barrier that other fine writers have created in their coverage of the topic. This is not to say it is "dumbed down". Quite the contrary, it is put in an everyday perspective and therefore worthy of consumption by a wider audience.

For further information, and for delving more formally into the topic, an extensive bibliography is provided, itself about 20% of the book. For the person interested in looking beyond this books level, there are many references to research.

All in all I think it fills a specific gap existing in connecting this important topic to our everyday lives. This topic, which explains so much about our relationships, how we do cooperate, and frequently don't , is worth a good read.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Houman Tamaddon on January 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
I knew little about game theory before reading this book so I expected to increase my knowledge a lot in an area that was new for me. I did learn some interesting concepts and terminology but for the most part I was disappointed. Fisher's examples of game theory were childish and unscientific - mostly about his personal experiences as a kid or dinner parties as an adult. While it makes for a light read, it will do little to expand your knowledge. There was little mention of any controlled scientific studies. A lot of the stories, like the Kitty Genovese murder in NYC in the 1970's, have been written about countless times. There was also little analytical and thoughtful discussion about serious situations where we observe game theory like in conflicts among countries. If you know little about game theory, you will learn some new tools but do not expect to be dazzled by this superficial covering of the topic.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By D. Black on March 21, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is not about game theory. The author touches on the subject for the first few chapters and then goes on to simplify it to the point of distortion and fill this book with pop-science fluff.

For a much better book on the topic, try The Compleat Strategyst: Being a Primer on the Theory of Games of Strategy It's put out by Rand, and it looks like it would be really dry, but it's the best intro to game theory that I've read- it's easy to understand, helpful, and even a bit funny in a playful way.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. Merrill on January 24, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book provides a few laughs and a regrettably tenuous understanding of game theory. This is not an introduction to game theory, nor a practical supplement for applying game theory in everyday life. It is a collection of stories, often from the author's childhood, and several informal definitions scattered throughout. These elements are tied together loosely under the heading "game theory", but not only collectively fail to provide a solid introduction to game theory but lack adequate explanation.

I suspect that many of those introduced to game theory by this book will have a false sense of knowledge about game theory and its application in everyday life. Like Fisher, these individuals will speciously argue for solutions to everyday problems (social dilemmas Fisher prefers to call them). Part of the problem is that he is, initially, quite convincing in his simple presentation of game theory. Only after the reader comes in contact with those with even a rudimentary understanding of game theory does the reader realize that he has been fooled by the simple and seemingly intuitive presentation.

Fisher has other books out in multiple disciplines (he has a Ph.D. in chemistry I think). I cannot comment on these, but I suspect that he is a sort of jack of all trades, master of none (except perhaps informal, inaccurate, ultimately entertaining representations of scientific disciplines). For this book, he frequently injects his own categorization, terminology, and opinions into the text in place of thought out explanations for game theoretic concepts. For example:

He refers to Nash's equilibrium as Nash's trap. "Professional game theorists may not much like my describing the Nash equilibrium in this way, because it implies that the equilibrium always leads to a bad outcome.
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