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Finite and Infinite Games

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  2,450 Ratings  ·  319 Reviews
“There are at least two kinds of games,” states James P. Carse as he begins this extraordinary book. “One could be called finite; the other infinite.”

Finite games are the familiar contests of everyday life; they are played in order to be won, which is when they end. But infinite games are more mysterious. Their object is not winning, but ensuring the continuation of play.
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Paperback, 152 pages
Published 2012 by Free Press (first published 1986)
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Rob
Sep 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
amazing. amazing!

one of those books that doesn't really teach you anything, but page after page you want to shout, "yes!, that's what i've always known, but i never had the words!".

hard to summarize, because it covers such a wide range, but the basic distinction is drawn between seeing life as a series of "finite games" and seeing existence as a single infinite game.

finite players play their finite games with the goal of "winning", which of course means that their goal is to actually BRING THE
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Wai Yip Tung
Jun 06, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play."


This is the opening statement of Carse's book. It introduces an intriguing concept of infinite game and gives us a new way to see things people do in this world. Unfortunately this is also the book's climax. The charm wear off quickly.

Carse went on to categorize many different things into finite or inf
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Architeacher
May 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book in 1986 and tried to read it, but without much success. It lay on a bookshelf for fifteen years until one sleepless night when I picked it up and thought to try again. I swallowed it whole that night and have come back again and again with excitement and expectation.

There is a group of Christian businessmen who distribute copies of the New Testament at the entrance to the student union where I teach. Carse's book is the one I would choose to purchase in bulk and hand to everyo
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Brian
Mar 16, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
(1.5) Found it vapid

So at least one reviewer said you needed to be 'intellectual' enough to really get this book. Well, I guess I'm unintellectual cause I really didn't. It was a sequence of unconnected quotable paragraphs usually of the form:

1. Something sounding like a topic sentence that might be interesting and you expect explication/justification to follow
2. It doesn't.
3. A tidy little wrap-up sentence of the form: It's not that A Bs the C; rather C Bs the A (e.g. "we not only operate with
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Philippe
I grant this book five stars for the brilliance of its core idea. The distinction between finite games and an infinite game is heuristically so powerful that once one has grasped it, it is almost impossible to put it out of one’s mind. I feel that the tension between these two basic dispositions traverses my whole personal biography. My deepest desire has always been to participate in an infinite game: not playing to win but to keep the game going and draw ever more people in. I believe that in ...more
Showmeguy
Jun 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a litmus test kind of a book. It appeals only to a certain kind of a person (me and others like me who are strongly intellectual in orientation). If you are stopped in your tracks by a sentence which asserts that your parents may have wanted a child, but they could not possibly have wanted you, then this book belongs on your list.

The author advances his premises by presenting pairs of opposites, but not the empty abstract opposites of logic (A and Not A), but opposites that depend upon i
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DJ
Jun 27, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in play and creativity
Shelves: philosophy
"Play" has saddled up alongside "innovation", "social entrepreneurship", and "network" as a buzzword for the early 21st century. Written decades before, however, Carse's book is a unique and fascinating attempt to adopt the "game" as a framework for all of human behavior.

The essential dichotomy is between those who play "finite games" for results, prizes, and recognition and those who play "infinite games" for the sheer joy and challenge.

I read this on a plane ride over the Pacific and loved the
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Keytrice Castro
Apr 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Finite Games and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility by James P. Carse was definitely an exciting read for me, and if you consider yourself a “thinker,” you’ll love this book too. It takes philosophy to another level you’re not used to, thinking of ideas you’re not used to in your PHI classes in college. The whole idea of seeing everything as either a finite or infinite “game” in life brings a new understanding to relationships, too—an understanding that might actually HELP ...more
Jeff
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
If you enjoy continental philosophers, you may enjoy this. I generally do not, and so generally did not.

The author, a professor of religion, frequently introduces strange new definitions of already common terms -- society and culture, strength and power, titles and names, life and death-- these and many more are used to mean things they do not, and then other terms are defined against the new usage, and rules/laws/claims asserted in this new language. For example:

"Poets cannot kill; they die. Me
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John Gamboa
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Finite and Infinte Games is simply one of the most important books I have ever read. Until I found this book in a thrift store I had never heard of the author. It was one of the happiest discoveries of my life. Carse has invented a completely intact and utterly elegant system for determining which people are adding selfish chaos to the world and those who create harmony and order. I consider this work to be a gift, I have read it more than any other book I have ever encountered, I keep finding m ...more
Richard
Jun 28, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Richard by: Ezra Klein
Despite my middling evaluation, I do recommend Carse’s book for anyone curious about it.

I stumbled on this title while listening to Ezra Klein’s podcast. It seemed like there were quite a few sequential episodes where he mentioned it, and since I’m quite impressed by his ability to do his homework and ask intriguing and insightful questions of his guests, I thought it would be a good lead to follow up on.

Both the context in which he mentioned it as well as my intuition about the title itself mad
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Apio
REVOLUTION AS AN INFINITE GAME: Some thoughts on Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games

Although James P. Carse did not write his book as revolutionary theory (far from it), the ideas he puts forth provide useful tools for conceiving what an anarchist revolution might be. In particular, his ideas point to why an anarchist revolution, or for that matter, any true revolution, cannot be a finite game, i.e., why it cannot operate within the logic of work. The logic of work is the logic of winners and los
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Dan
Sep 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who loves, or despises, safety
Shelves: to-buy
Continually pushing my personal horizons, Carse reminds me of what I often choose to forget: that everything of importance is rooted in personal choice, and that choice and joy are inseparably connected.

It is daunting to write a review of a book that almost causally overturns much of the conventional view of society and its attendant honors. Yet that very self-consciousness is a reminder that genuine communication is only achieved through vulnerability.

A kind of of wild freedom, impossible to c
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David
Feb 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ethics, philosophy
This book is about Carse's personal philosophy, told in a uniquely striking way. This little gem of a book is an easy read, but very deep. Carse does not try to convince the reader of his philosophy. He simply presents it, and lets the reader sort it out. Carse seems to take pleasure in taking an issue and standing it upside-down. As a result, reading this book really provokes you think about life: Life is an infinite game that provides no rules or boundaries. There are no winners or losers. Onl ...more
James Spencer
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I think this is one of those books that I will read with profit every couple of years. This book, along with James Carse's, The Religious Case Against Belief, The Inner Game of Tennis (W. Timothy Gallwey) and True and False, by David Mamet are among my favorites in making me think about how to think.
Robert
Nov 24, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: only those who haven't thought much about life before now
The themes of this book are not without their wisdom... but rarely have these wisdoms been presented so poorly and so uninvitingly. Mindless sentence by sentence inversions do not recreate the Hegelian style of sophistry he is clearly trying to mimic, and endless quoting of better minds and texts only reinforces the weakness of this one. Skip this for the real stuff...
Max Nova
Nov 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Max by: Jeff Gordon
I started this book expecting a popular treatment of game theory. I was in for a surprise! Contrary to what the title might lead you to believe, "Finite and Infinite Games" is essentially an extremely dense religious/philosophical text. The insights-per-paragraph rate is insane.

Carse - a religion prof at NYU - tends to set up dualities: power vs. strength, culture vs. society, language vs. history, machine vs. nature, and - most crucially - finite vs. infinite. He often inverts language in stran
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Jimmy Ele
A masterpiece of thought. One of those rare books that expands our perceptions. I like to visualize this philosophy as more than just "thinking outside the box. This philosophy is examining, analyzing and acknowledging the box, then "thinking outside the box", and then realizing that even though you have stepped out of the box, you are still in another box, albeit a bigger more expanded box which still contains you and your subjective perception, as well as the box you were previously in. One se ...more
Lee
Mar 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lee by: Bob Jesse
A unique. enlightening, elegant and fun book to read, placing all of human behavior (and even that of the Universe) into a simple, yet all-encompassing logical formula, without resorting to divinity or leaps of faith. An amazing accomplishment.
Frans Baars
Mar 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: further
A little-known gem of a book. Forces you to engage an out-of-the-box way of thinking, possibly leading to a whole new way understanding life. One of my all time favourites!
Lenny Husen
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best books I have ever read.
It was featured in an outstanding lecture I attended at the Southern Conference of Hospital Medicine in 2013 in New Orleans. The lecturer was Jeff Wiese, MD., a past President of the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM). Wiese related Finite and Infinite Games to the practice of Hospital Medicine and I was so intrigued, that I gave a talk myself on the topic, borrowing from Dr. Wiese's talk but adding much that was my own or from other sources.
I hadn
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Manu
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: review
The last book that fundamentally affected my way of thinking was 'Antifragile'. It altered my perspective on ownership, planning, and in general, the approach to various events and things. It remains a favourite. But this book took my thinking to a different plane altogether, and has probably altered it irrevocably. Credit goes to James P Carse for at least two things - one for the thinking that clarified everything around us to this level of 'simplicity', and two, for explaining it in a manner ...more
Kadri
Dec 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found the ideas in Carse's book ultimately thought-provoking in the best kind of way.
In this book Carse present the idea of two types of games - finite and infinite. They have different characteristics such as in a finite game you assume a role, there are rules about the game that can't change during the game, and the game can be won or lost, and there's an audience.

In infinite games rules can and probably do change, you can't win, you can only bring more people into the game to make sure tha
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Dave Maddock
Carse is a whore for needless semantic paradox. The first 20 pages are an interesting description of a rather artificial and naive world view of life as a set of games--some which must end and some which must forever continue. The remainder of the book is a tedious exposition of examples wherein Carse blithely redefines words to force various concepts into his dualistic model.
TK Keanini
If you are going to read only a few books on Game Theory, this is one of them. Some people don't like Carse's writing style but I love it.
Tristan
Profound and insightful but frustrating. It was as if the author was more interested in being quotable than being readable. This is a shame because beneath the unending stream of aphorisms Carse clearly has some wisdom.

I highlighted a lot of brilliant passages, some of which were:

"There are no rules that require us to obey rules. If there were, there would have to be a rule for those rules, and so on."

"The joyfulness of infinite play, its laughter, lies in learning to start something we cannot
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Austin Storm
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Five stars implies that I agree with everything in this book, which is not how I use stars. This book is delightful, truly.

I live in a community that loves its aphorisms. Chesterton and Wodehouse, everybody holding forth the latest mots like Garrison Keillor on Four Loko.

I've grown to appreciate them, as well as be wary of their reductive potential. I'm also convinced that the value of aphorisms has little to do with the aphorism itself, or whether it's being employed by a good or bad actor, but
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Art
Zero fitted fancy stories.
Zero references to popular already-read-by-everybody books.
Plethora of orthogonal thoughts.

Now we're talking.

Usually, the most interesting references steams from the least expected places. This one was buried in a semi-technical discussion on Reddit. Thank's, Mr. Buterin. And thank's Kevin Kelly.

This is a cohesive, deep and philosophical but at the same time practical work, that blends:
- signaling theory
- non-conformity theme
- process vs goals dichotomy
- internal vs ext
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Sai
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I naively picked this book up as a text on game theory. It's not about game theory!

It's roughly a philosophy book, with heavy use of metaphor. It's short, but impossible to read fast, since the ideas presented required a lot of slow rumination to capture the range of meanings being offered.

I thought the experience of reading this book was rather spiritual, unlike any other book I've ever read. It's a heady mix of psychological ideas, early childhood development studies, world religions and mora
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Jess
Nov 27, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who think too much or too little
I couldn't actually get any further than the first section of this book. It is insanely repetitive. It felt like there might be some interesting ideas in here, but they were presented poorly. Examples of the different "games" were sparse and obtuse.
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The Practical and...: General Discussion for Finite and Infinite Games 4 13 Aug 25, 2016 01:46PM  
Somewhat abstract 2 21 Oct 21, 2009 08:15AM  
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James P. Carse was a Professor of Religion at New York University.
“To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.” 58 likes
“A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.” 41 likes
More quotes…