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The Strategy of Conflict: With a New Preface by the Author
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The Strategy of Conflict: With a New Preface by the Author

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  581 ratings  ·  40 reviews
A series of closely interrelated essays on game theory, this book deals with an area in which progress has been least satisfactory--the situations where there is a common interest as well as conflict between adversaries: negotiations, war and threats of war, criminal deterrence, extortion, tacit bargaining. It proposes enlightening similarities between, for instance, maneu ...more
Paperback, 328 pages
Published May 15th 1981 by Harvard University Press (first published January 1st 1960)
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4.03  · 
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 ·  581 ratings  ·  40 reviews

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This is one of the most important books on Game Theory, and also, thankfully, one of the more accessible (certainly much more so than von Neumann's and Morgenstern's book).

His main theses are that not all games are zero-sum. That is, they are 'variable-sum', or dependent upon the strategies used. Not all actors are apparently rational, and some may act on seemingly irrational behavior in order to alter their opponent's responses. On the individual level, this could be the abusive lover threaten
Alex Borghgraef
Sep 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pirate
Why MAD is sane, weakness is strength and knowledge is a disadvantage. A classic.
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a wonderful though challenging read. Schelling tries to keep the tone conversational, but in doing so loses the precision necessary to keep track of all the moving parts in his arguments. I found myself flipping back and forth between pages and spending substantial time on some of his arguments. Nonetheless, I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in game theory or international relations. I tracked this book down because it was referenced in basically every book I’ve read on th ...more
Paul Conroy
Dec 05, 2018 rated it liked it
A fairly good book on strategy, but no earth shattering insights.
Raj Agrawal
Oct 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: saass-books
[Disclaimer: This is a snapshot of my thoughts on this book after just reading it. This is not meant to serve as a summary of main/supporting points or a critique – only as some words on how I engaged with this book for the purposes of building a theoretical framework on strategy.]

-- Assigned reading for School of Advanced Air & Space Studies, chapters 1-3 & 8 only --

This book by Schelling carries the idea of compellence forward into the concept of manipulating the adversary’s perceptio
Apr 03, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: war-theory, politics
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
If at first this reads like a pop-econ book about counter-intuitive explanations for human transactions, do not stop there. Keep thinking about it.

Schelling's description of variable sum games and bargaining seemed overbearing while I was reading it, but as soon as I finished the book I realized having the analysis systematically laid out was very helpful. In particular, I wish I had read this before studying Contracts. Generally, this book gives me a new perspective for explaining the most diff
Chris Esposo
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting not only as a historical artifact on an application of "game theoretic" reasoning, but also the foundations of US cold war strategic thinking. Much of the book uses game theory more as a general framework for reasoning, and less as an abstract construct. There are a few moments, about 1 hour of row/column table analysis of payoff matrices, none of which are made available in pdf or other formats, which extends into a conversation on dominating strategies, mostly incoherent because of ...more
Aug 05, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: reviewed
I really wanted to like this book, and after receiving the recommendation to read it and looking up the subject matter, I was very enthusiastic to have a go at it. Game theory, strategy and international relations are all extremely interesting to me, so it was massively disappointing when I found it difficult to finish even the first couple of chapters. This may have been due to the format used; I chose it as one of my more recent audiobooks, and other reviewers have stated this is not a good au ...more
Ricardo Hernández
Oct 25, 2018 rated it liked it
A complex and an extremely hard to follow book, the Strategy of Conflict is about the implications, nuances and tactics of non zero sum games. The paragraphs are all about theory and little practice; the illustrations are abstract and lack annotations; thus my point about a hard to digest book. This obviously was written for subject matter experts, and since I was reading this as introduction to the topic, my understanding of the corpus came really short. I'd recommend other sources as stepping ...more
Matt Cannon
Jul 21, 2019 rated it liked it
I learned about this book from a Naval Ravikant Podcast where he talked about the Schelling Point and how we cooperate without communicating. The book is a good primer to understand more about geopolitical conflicts, wars, the dynamics between leaders and using game theory to determine potential outcomes. The book was interesting and had a lot of useful information. It was a little bit on the dry side and had some confusing scenarios/formulas in it. This isn’t for ev ...more
Fernando  Hoces de la Guardia
A no go for audiobook.
Ryan Fishel
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great game theory book applicable to Cold War, linear policy theory. Contrast with The Direction of War by Hugh Strachan
Yatharth Agarwal
TL;DR: Becomes repetitive, but bear with it for the ideas and mode of thinking that kept the world from blowing up while shaking up abstract game theory. No complicated maths involved; just the sheer brilliance of his examples.

Pick up a game theory textbook and most of your time will be spent proving theorems about games you can prove theorems about with fixed sums where you minimax and that’s it. Except that’s not how most real-world games go. The real world is complicated, neither fully compet
Mar 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Foundational. I've known for years I should've read this before now. Very worthwhile. If you've ever read anything on deterrence or plan to, stop and read this first.

Please enjoy where Schelling states, on the second to last page, that improving the survivability of retaliatory, second-strike forces makes it more possible that the US could use nuclear weapons on a small scale to oppose Russian conventional aggression: "The risk involved in a bit of less-than-massive retaliation should be less th
Jonathan Jeckell
For a book this old, written by a founder in the field, and fundamental to a range of fields people have put a lot of effort into understanding (nuclear deterrence for example) this book had a lot of surprises. It used game theory to discuss a variety of strategy related issues, including how the fear of surprise attack influences the behavior of two interlocutors. It also had some interesting insights into regular warfare too. War is rarely a completely competitive endeavor, and often requires ...more
Steven Peterson
Mar 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Thomas Schelling's work on states' strategic thinking was important in the 1960s. This volume, published in 1960, examines, as the title suggests, "the strategy of conflict." How does the threat of conflict or actual use of violence advance the interests of states? Schelling uses game theory to explore the logic of exploiting potential force in international bargaining situations. This book illustrates strategic thinking in the 1960s.
Aug 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Classic on the game-theoretical aspects of conflicts, in particular, international relations. E.g. the whole discussion of threats/promises/credibility. It abstracts from actual conflicts, and treats them as a kind of chess game. Insightful.
Feb 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book about strategy, both in games and wars. The level is more academic so it require some understanding from the reader.
Mar 20, 2008 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Vicki by: Tim Whitley
Discusses the "Prisoner's Dilemma" game.
Jun 25, 2012 marked it as to-read
I'm not sure how I didn't hear about this book until now.
Feb 04, 2010 rated it liked it
An inarguable, insightful classic. More readable than I could have hoped, despite the proliferation of illustrative mathematical games...
David Chudzicki
Nov 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Nicely connects game theory to the real world. Great book.
Brian Finifter
Apr 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
I can read again, I can read again. Hallelujah I can read again!
Jan 14, 2010 rated it did not like it
relied heavily on man as a rational actor, a lot of game theory, the only useful concept is "making the pie bigger"
Dewey Norton
Aug 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
An economic analysis of international conflict using principles from theory of choice.
Feb 01, 2014 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: unfinished
very dense and hard to follow. opted for a summary of the book instead.
Aug 24, 2017 added it
i want to read this book
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Thomas Crombie Schelling was an American economist and professor of foreign affairs, national security, nuclear strategy, and arms control at the School of Public Policy at University of Maryland, College Park. He is also co-faculty at the New England Complex Systems Institute. He was awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics (shared with Robert Aumann) for "having enhanced our understanding of ...more
“Furthermore, theory that is based on the assumption that the participants coolly and “rationally” calculate their advantages according to a consistent value system forces us to think more thoroughly about the meaning of “irrationality.” Decision-makers are not simply distributed along a one-dimensional scale that stretches from complete rationality at one end to complete irrationality at the other. Rationality is a collection of attributes, and departures from complete rationality may be in many different directions. Irrationality can imply a disorderly and inconsistent value system, faulty calculation, an inability to receive messages or to communicate efficiently; it can imply random or haphazard influences in the reaching of decisions or the transmission of them, or in the receipt or conveyance of information; and it sometimes merely reflects the collective nature of a decision among individuals who do not have identical value systems and whose organizational arrangements and communication systems do not cause them to act like a single entity.” 0 likes
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