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Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  4,313 ratings  ·  601 reviews
An extraordinary book that will dramatically change the way you experience life.
Finite games are the familiar contests of everyday life, the games we play in business and politics, in the bedroom and on the battlefied -- games with winners and losers, a beginning and an end. Infinite games are more mysterious -- and ultimately more rewarding. They are unscripted and unpred
Mass Market Paperback, 192 pages
Published August 12th 1987 by Ballantine Books (first published 1986)
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Shannah Yes. The aphorisms inside are timeless, I have found. This book never gets old. I keep going back to it over and over again. Each time I feel inspired…moreYes. The aphorisms inside are timeless, I have found. This book never gets old. I keep going back to it over and over again. Each time I feel inspired anew. (less)

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Average rating 3.88  · 
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 ·  4,313 ratings  ·  601 reviews

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Sep 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Wai Yip Tung
Jun 06, 2012 rated it did not like it
"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
May 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 16, 2011 rated it did not like it
(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
Jun 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Dec 25, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pub-1986
This is why everyone hates moral philosophy professors.

Except this guy isn't even one. He has all the arrogance of one but none of their intellectual rigour.
This book has all the impracticality of a philosophical treatise, combined with all the self-righteousness of a self-help guide.

And what's with the random-ass quotes peppered through the thing?
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
Nov 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Some good stuff buried under a lot of messy writing and incoherent thought. Logical inconsistencies abound. I think his main problems come with infinite games - his rhetorical structure means he must always present binaries with respect to finite/infinite games, and with finite = bad and infinite = good. As an exploration of finite games, I think there is a lot to recommend here (though often it is simply that the obvious/trite is couched in the language of profundity), but it would have been be ...more
Jun 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in play and creativity
"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
Keytrice Castro
Apr 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
John Gamboa
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 24, 2007 rated it did not like it
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...
jasmine sun
Apr 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: theory, self-help
i was pretty disappointed overall - big "i'm 14 and this is deep" vibes, or a Naval tweet that went way, way too long. i would probably recommend the first chapter "there are two kinds of games," but think it gets worse as it goes on (or maybe more tiring). but also i get the sense that this is a love/hate kind of book, so maybe i'm wrong.

Carse starts with a fundamental distinction:
- finite games: zero-sum competitions played to win / outrank
- infinite games: non-teleological scenarios played t
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
Dave Maddock
Oct 23, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy, aborted
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.
James Spencer
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Oct 28, 2018 rated it liked it
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
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
Taylor Pearson
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of my all-time favorite books. This was my third read through. It starts with a bang:

“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.”

Carse insists that there is a persistent illusion in our society that boundaries and rules exist outside of ourselves, but they do not.

“There is no finite game unless the players freely choose to play it. No one c
Jimmy Ele
Jan 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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The Practical and...: General Discussion for Finite and Infinite Games 4 21 Aug 25, 2016 01:46PM  
Somewhat abstract 2 25 Oct 21, 2009 08:15AM  

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James P. Carse was a Professor of Religion at New York University.

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