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Prisoner's Dilemma
     

Prisoner's Dilemma

3.6 5
by William Poundstone
 

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Should you watch public television without pledging?...Exceed the posted speed limit?...Hop a subway turnstile without paying? These questions illustrate the so-called "prisoner's dilemma", a social puzzle that we all face every day. Though the answers may seem simple, their profound implications make the prisoner's dilemma one of the great unifying concepts of

Overview

Should you watch public television without pledging?...Exceed the posted speed limit?...Hop a subway turnstile without paying? These questions illustrate the so-called "prisoner's dilemma", a social puzzle that we all face every day. Though the answers may seem simple, their profound implications make the prisoner's dilemma one of the great unifying concepts of science. Watching players bluff in a poker game inspired John von Neumann—father of the modern computer and one of the sharpest minds of the century—to construct game theory, a mathematical study of conflict and deception. Game theory was readily embraced at the RAND Corporation, the archetypical think tank charged with formulating military strategy for the atomic age, and in 1950 two RAND scientists made a momentous discovery.

Called the "prisoner's dilemma," it is a disturbing and mind-bending game where two or more people may betray the common good for individual gain. Introduced shortly after the Soviet Union acquired the atomic bomb, the prisoner's dilemma quickly became a popular allegory of the nuclear arms race. Intellectuals such as von Neumann and Bertrand Russell joined military and political leaders in rallying to the "preventive war" movement, which advocated a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union. Though the Truman administration rejected preventive war the United States entered into an arms race with the Soviets and game theory developed into a controversial tool of public policy—alternately accused of justifying arms races and touted as the only hope of preventing them.

A masterful work of science writing, Prisoner's Dilemma weaves together a biography of the brilliant and tragic von Neumann, a history of pivotal phases of the cold war, and an investigation of game theory's far-reaching influence on public policy today. Most important, Prisoner's Dilemma is the incisive story of a revolutionary idea that has been hailed as a landmark of twentieth-century thought.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Poundstone's three-dimensional outline of game theory mathematics sketches the life of its inventor, John von Neumann, and his role in Cold War policy-making. Photos. (Feb.)
Library Journal
This very readable book is partly a biography of John von Neumann, partly a nontechnical history of the branch of mathematics known as game theory, and partly a description of some of the paradoxical findings that arise from that theory. Von Neumann was a brilliant mathematician who was the major figure in the Manhattan Project and later an active public figure. Thus, those portions of the book that deal with his life are interesting and informative. Those sections that deal with game theory use no mathematics beyond simple arithmetic and are thus fascinating, thought provoking, and easily accessible to the layperson. For all biography and science collections.-- Harold D. Shane, Baruch Coll., CUNY
Booknews
Reprint of the fine biography first published by Doubleday in 1992. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
"Both a fascinating biography of von Neumann, the Hungarian exile whose mathematical theories were building blocks for the A-bomb and the digital computer, and a brilliant social history of game theory and its role in the Cold War and nuclear arms race."--San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307763785
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/25/2011
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
632,698
File size:
4 MB

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Both a fascinating biography of von Neumann, the Hungarian exile whose mathematical theories were building blocks for the A-bomb and the digital computer, and a brilliant social history of game theory and its role in the Cold War and nuclear arms race."—San Francisco Chronicle

Meet the Author

William Poundstone studied physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of The Recursive Universe, about information theory and physics, and Labyrinths of Reason, an exploration of paradox in science. He is also known as the author of such popular books as Big Secrets, The Ultimate, and Prisoner’s Dilemma. He has written for Esquire, Harper’s, SPY, and other periodicals. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Prisoner's Dilemma 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In general, this book moved back and forth too much between the history story and game theory. As a result, I found myself unsatisfied. I liked the history, but would have liked a real dive into the meat of game theory.