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The Complete Idiot's Guide to Game Theory

Edward C. Rosenthal
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Tom Schulte
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The Complete Idiot's Guide to Game Theory presents an analysis of strategic thinking while confronting the reader with as little mathematics as possible. The book’s frequent examples amplify each concept with supporting detail. The Guide touches on the history of the craft made popular by the Nobel Prize-winning John Nash of A Beautiful Mind, the logical underpinnings of modeling within this theory, and the role of social behavior and psychology in games.

After reading this book, one will have a good feel for foundational ideas of game theory, such as zero-sum games, the Prisoner's Dilemma, and utility. These ideas are exemplified through marketplace competition, advertising wars, splitting the lunch tab, and more. All of this is done for the non-mathematical reader. To the author’s credit, this does not detract from understanding, even for such topics as Nash equilibrium, Kalai-Somorodinsky solution, and Pareto optimality.

Up through Chapter 9, even just barely remembered high school algebra will be enough to get by. At the onset of the double-digit chapters, it might seem a little intimidating that Cartesian planes and functions in two variables have reared their heads. However, the author omits most mathematical explanation aside from prose overviews for the rest of the text.

In the sweep of the book, there is a constant refrain of the names and accomplishments of key individuals in development of game theory. This historical context, besides giving a chronological framework, adds an engaging dimension. This is not only an explanation of game theory, but the story of game theory.

The armchair philosopher and mathematics enthusiast to whom this book will appeal will most appreciate the final, ambitious chapters in the last third of the book. Here economic behavior is assessed, along with imperfect information, signaling between participants, cooperative games, voting systems, several types of auctions, and more.

Chapters end with a “The Least You Need to Know” recap. There are no exercises, but the book has a glossary and appendices that point to reference material in books and the Web. This is an excellent resource for anyone curious about this important topic but lacking a mathematical background.

Tom Schulte chooses to cooperate or defect from Auburn Hills, as Senior Software Engineer at Plex Systems.

The table of contents is not available.