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Prisoner's Dilemma

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3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  1,111 Ratings  ·  92 Reviews
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, ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 1st 1993 by Anchor (first published 1992)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Greg
Jan 13, 2010 Greg rated it liked it


When is a math book not a math book? How about when it's a biography, or a history of the early Cold War years? Clocking in at 278 pages, this book is sort of three books in one. It's kind of a look at Game Theory. Sometimes it's a biography of John Von Neumann, and then at other times it's a primer about early Cold War paranoia and the beginning of the arms race.

All three are pretty interesting subjects, and they are intertwined in ways that are fairly obvious (or at least fairly obvious if on
...more
Valerie
My next book, continuing my quest to misunderstand nuclear physics. Word of the day mamihlapinatapai. Meaning "looking at each other hoping that either will offer to do something that both parties desire but are unwilling to do."
Brett
Dec 10, 2008 Brett rated it really liked it
This book is three intertwined story lines, all separate, but related. The first is a short biography of John von Neumann, the founder of game theory. The second is a layman's explanation of game theory, with many examples of various games, their properties, and how they might be applied to real life. The third is a history of the middle of the 20th Century in relation to the atomic bomb, specifically the arms race between the USA and USSR that gave us the huge stockpile of hydrogen bombs and ...more
Hesam
Mar 20, 2014 Hesam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
ترجمه ی کتاب یک فاجعه ی به تمام معناست...ویراستاری که هیچ ...ندارد
اگرچه رویکرد تاریخی نویسنده کتاب برای شرح و تفهیم نظریه ی بازیها به نظر جذاب و موفق به نظر می آید اما روند کتاب نشان از آنست که این رویکرد به پاشنه ی آشیل آن بدل شده است.کتاب برای شروع به دانستن نظریه ی بازیها اصلا مناسب نیست و آشنایی قبلی لازم به نظر میرسد و تنها برای گرفتن اطلاعات تاریخی و آشنایی با تعدادی از بازیها مطرح بد نیست
خوب بخش های جذاب کتاب(با در نظر نگرفتن ترجمه ی افتضاح و فرض اندکی اطلاعات پیشینی) یکی ، اتفاقات جنگ سر
...more
Jessica
Jul 27, 2010 Jessica rated it really liked it
Great book filled with fun facts that really color Neumann's life and the history of the Cold War from a game theory point of view.
Chris
Oct 13, 2016 Chris rated it liked it
More of a biography than I thought it was going to be, it's really three books in one... part bio, part examination of Game Theory, and part history book....

Decent read despite being pulled in those directions. Neumann was a fascinating man. Very neat to get some insight into the minds of that time... especially Bertrand Russel of all people.
Charles
Jul 26, 2015 Charles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Should be required reading for all people active in geopolitical decision making

Simultaneously one of the most over and underrated areas of mathematics, game theory has many applications in the behavioral sciences. The classic example of this is illustrated by the problem known as the prisoner’s dilemma. Each arrested person must make a decision as to whether they should keep silent or confess and implicate both of them based on how they think the other person will act. Both gain the most by sil
...more
Richard
This was a curiously fractured book. Those moderately rare folks expecting the subject to stay close to the title will be surprised: although Poundstone does spend quite a bit of time and text explaining the Prisoner's Dilemma (the archetypal game theoretic problem), this is almost as much a biography of the scientist John Von Neumann.

The nexus is the cold war fascination with the PD as a mechanism for strategic analysis of the arms race. Unfortunately, game theory was seized upon as a means of
...more
Ron
Jan 07, 2012 Ron rated it really liked it
William Poundstone's "Prisoner's Dilemma" is a strange hybrid of a book. Not that history and pop science haven't ever been mixed together before. On the contrary, "Goedel, Escher, Bach" is a classic of the genre. GEB was also grossly misunderstood and people overlooked the history of AI (which was incredible) because of the relatively technical discussions involving formal logic and "TNT".

Poundstone seems determined not to suffer a similar fate. "Prisoner's Dilemma" tackles the fairly popular,
...more
Alex
Feb 07, 2016 Alex rated it really liked it
This is really three books in one: a brief biography of John von Neumann, a history of the making of the bomb and the early days of the Cold War, and an introduction to basic game theory. Von Neumann pretty much invented game theory, was deeply involved in the creation of the A-bomb, and worked with the RAND Corporation & as a government advisor in the 40s and 50s. It all adds up to a fascinating book.

The Prisoner's Dilemma of the title is a well-known problem described by game theory (and r
...more
Nilesh
Sep 08, 2012 Nilesh rated it really liked it
The book intertwines three totally different subjects and to a degree that works well.

The book's take on historic cold war events is superficial. However, the discussion is more than simply the backdrop discussion. One gets some strange insights into the thinking of many who shaped the world. However, as with the other subjects, one is left wanting more.

The focus on Van Neumann often appears needless. One is never clear, despite heavy assertions, why he should be considered a cut above the rest
...more
Miguel Vargas
Jun 17, 2016 Miguel Vargas rated it liked it
I bought this book was because I wanted to know more about John von Neumann's life. At first, I like a lot this book since the introduction is really broadly engaging. However, it focuses a lot on the Cold War from a prisoner's dilemma perspective. I have to admit some topics covered about game theory are really interesting, but the explanation of most of them are kind of overwhelming. Honestly, I expected to find more about von Neumann's personal life, but it is okay because it was compensated ...more
Tim
Apr 12, 2014 Tim rated it liked it
Shelves: history, science
If you saw the movie version of A Beautiful Mind and thought that its corny description of Nash equilibria left something to be desired, then this popular treatment of game theory is an excellent next step. The book devotes some space to a biography of John von Neumann and a rushed history of post-WW2 nuclear politics, but the real highlights are the author's crisp and readable explanations of the major concepts of game theory -- chief among them the Minimax Theorem, the Prisoner's Dilemma, Tit- ...more
Holmes
Jul 08, 2013 Holmes rated it really liked it
Prisoner's Dilemma touches on a very interesting and thought-provoking topic. While it is based on game theory, the actual political examples (e.g. the nuclear arms race) mentioned by the author help bring out the reality and complexity of the problem. As the author puts it, "the only satisfying solution to the prisoner's dilemma is to avoid prisoner's dilemmas." It may sound like a cop-out, but it does address the core issue - we are all rational and irrational creatures at the same time, and t ...more
Mike McMahon
Mar 30, 2009 Mike McMahon rated it really liked it
This book ties together three topics: First, An Introduction to Game Theory; Second, A biography of John von Neumann one of the inventors of the computer, and Third, A history of the atomic bomb. Game Theory is a way of mathematically representing conflict and strategy. John Nash (depicted in the movie "A Beautiful Mind") won the Nobel Prize for developing the Nash Equilibrium in Game Thory. The author makes a valiant attempt to explain game theory in non-technical terms but after completing the ...more
Joseph
Dec 12, 2008 Joseph rated it really liked it
the beginning and the end of the book are good. it talks abt game theory and its application in different scenarios


the middle part is less interesting unless of course you like history.

but i must say this book provides a good overview on game theory, especially to someone new on the subject

key takeaways from the book:

(1) provides scientific explanation on why ppl would be motivated to defect (rather than cooperate) given the chance to go behind someone's back. And why economically speaking, it'
...more
Richard
Apr 28, 2010 Richard rated it liked it
Game theory is a fascinating subject, but Poundstone's treatment is nothing short of heel-dragging. Including the biography of von Neumann was definitely exceeding maximum density. Game theory itself is an intriguing subject, with its application to global thermonuclear politics to natural selection to marriage counseling, so the biographic element here became ultimately skippable. Even when Pundstone reveals a grand new application for game theory (something around long before John Nash, though ...more
Franco Arda
Oct 03, 2011 Franco Arda rated it really liked it
The book is basically a biography of the illustrative John von Neumann in the context of game theory (or better science of conflict) and its role in the Cold War. Readers interested in learning more about game theory might be disappointed while discovering the biography of one of the most important scientist of the last century and the social history in the nuclear arms race. Additionally, readers will get a better understanding of the almost infinite complexity of prisoner dilemma and TIT FOR ...more
Heather
Aug 14, 2015 Heather rated it it was ok
I wanted math book. I did not get math book. Instead I got poorly translated (though I suppose that's not the book's fault per se but seriously) and crossing the lines between biography math-ish book and moral compass. Personally, this failed to do all three of it, or at least do any of it enough to intrigue me.

Like, wikipedia on game theory is much more understandable than this and wikipedia is BLOODY OBSCURE when it comes to niche mathematical terms. That was how unreadable it got. The two sta
...more
Jeff
Aug 17, 2007 Jeff rated it really liked it
This book was not what I was expecting, and I'm glad, as it was fantastic. A little bit of biography (mostly John Von Neumann, once described as "the greatest mind of our time" while he was sharing a hallway with Einstein and Godel. Cameos by John Nash of "A Beautiful Mind" fame, Edward Teller, the basis for Dr. Strangelove, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, "father of the bomb," among others) a little history (RAND corporation, the Manhattan project, the Cold War), some basic (no "real" math ...more
Ramin
May 01, 2008 Ramin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
فرض كنيد در اتاقي به صندلي بسته شده ايد و دكمه اي در روبروي شما قرار دارد در اتاقي ديگر فرزند شما قرار گرفته و وضعيتي مشابه با شما دارد درصورت فشار دادن دكمه فرد فشاردهنده كشته ميشود و فرد ديگر آزاد مي گردد و اين را اضافه كنيد كه شما و فرزندتان يك ساعت ببيشتر وقت نداريد وبعد از يك ساعت هر دو كشته ميشويد در اين صورت واكنش شما چيست؟
شايد به خود بگوييد كه احتمال بروز اين موقعيتها در زندگي براي من نزديك به صفر است ولي به نظر من قرار نيست آدم حتما به جايي بسته شده باشد و راه نجاتش دكمه باشد اين موقعيت
...more
Michael Anderson
Mar 01, 2014 Michael Anderson rated it it was amazing
Very good book. Half biography of John Von Neumann, half history of the post-WW2 US-Soviet relationship, and half a description of game theory in different forms, as it relates to the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis, and various hypothetical social and political situations. There are interesting discussions of Axelrod's cooperative Tit-for-Tat strategy in iterated Prisoner Dilemma experiments, dollar auctions, volunteer dilemmas, largest number auctions, etc. Good information here, historically ...more
Joe
Sep 27, 2011 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This fascinating book talks about the history, implications, and applications of game theory. Game theory involves the analysis of conflicts to determine an optimal strategy -- whether that conflict is a game of checkers, or if it is global nuclear war.

Poundstone does a great job of describing game theory in a variety of applications, from very simple cases to more complex ones. He not only describes the basic mechanics, but also explains why people sometimes view its results as paradoxical.
Alex
Oct 31, 2011 Alex rated it liked it
This book is well written, interesting, and seems well researched. It tries to break up the monotony of theory with interesting chapters on the history of the people who worked on game theory(especially John von Neumann) and comparisons between certain dilemma's in game theory with the cold war and nuclear proliferation.

My only problem with the book is that it's more of a history book than it is a game theory primer. There's only a few games actually explained and pretty much no math at all.

Goo
...more
Maygoon
Apr 14, 2014 Maygoon rated it really liked it
This was a surprisingly enjoyable book. Thanks to a clever blend of biography, cold-war history, and math theory, this book could definitely appeal to far more people than the title itself alludes. If there is a weak point to this book, it is that it so rarely delves into mathematical theory that when it does it comes off as a bit jarring - like a linear algebra problem in a history book - and the brain isn't quite ready for it. But putting that aside, it was an enjoyable read, complete with ...more
Brian
Jan 27, 2010 Brian rated it it was amazing
This book combines three main themes. First and probably most interesting it is a very good introduction to two player game theory and the iterated prisoner's dilemma. Second it shows how the ideas of game theory affected policy thinking during the cold war. Third it is a biography of the prominent mathematician John Von Neumann. This book manages to tell a pretty compelling story while still being a reasonably technical though accessible intro to an important mathematical idea which has ...more
pd
Jan 06, 2015 pd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
گذشته از موضوع کلی‌ش، تنوعش برام جالب بود. تعقیب کردن زندگی بعضی از افراد که گاهی داشت رنگ بیوگرافی به خودش می‌گرفت، تشریح مسائل نظری ریاضی بصورت عامه‌فهم، بیان شرایط سیاسی-نظامی بعضی دوران، و سایر مواردی که نویسنده حس کرده بود درخور توجه هستند، بیان شده بود. یک جا به خودم اومدم و گفتم پرداخت به زندگی فون نویمان بس نیست؟ کمی بعد رفت سراغ بحث تاریخی/علمی؛ جایی بحث نظری حوصله‌م رو سر می‌برد، که بزودی فضاش عوض می‌شد. نمیشه فقط برچسب علمی/ریاضی/تاریخی/بیوگرافی/... بهش زد. تألیف خوبی بود. ترجیحم سه و ...more
Ilya
Dec 27, 2010 Ilya rated it really liked it
At once a biography of John von Neumann (which of course could not touch on all his scientific achievements, since this would have required a far greater sophistication than the author could assume), a popular introduction to game theory, including a detailed discussion of prisoner's dilemma, the game of chicken and Rousseau's stag hunt, and the story of early Cold War nuclear diplomacy (involving such prominent figures as Francis Matthews, Secretary of the Navy in the Truman administration who ...more
Arjen
Dec 19, 2012 Arjen rated it liked it
This book is about three things:
1. a concise biography of John von Neumann
2. a concise overview of post WWII cold war arms-race politics
3. game theory and the prisoner's dilemma

Very quick read that never really digs deep into the subjects. You can imagine because each of the above three subjects can easily fill a tome by themselves. I really enjoyed it though and I would recommend it to anyone interested in either of the above topics.
Nita
Jul 12, 2008 Nita rated it liked it
It's hard to read this book without long pauses that may or may not involve scratch paper. I really enjoyed the game theory aspect of it.

I feel like the math presented was accurate but the prose used to justify it was a little wishy-washy in places. It smacked of "left as an exercise for the reader" without explicitly saying so.

I was frequently annoyed because the von Neumann biography tended to interfere with the game theory history, rather than complement it.
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William Poundstone is the author of more than ten non-fiction books, including 'Fortune's Formula', which was the Amazon Editors' Pick for #1 non-fiction book of 2005. Poundstone has written for The New York Times, Psychology Today, Esquire, Harpers, The Economist, and Harvard Business Review. He has appeared on the Today Show, The David Letterman Show and hundreds of radio talk-shows throughout t ...more
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