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The Evolution of Cooperation

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  1,588 ratings  ·  120 reviews
The Evolution of Cooperation provides valuable insights into the age-old question of whether unforced cooperation is ever possible. Widely praised and much-discussed, this classic book explores how cooperation can emerge in a world of self-seeking egoists—whether superpowers, businesses, or individuals—when there is no central authority to police their actions. The problem ...more
Paperback, Revised Edition, 264 pages
Published December 5th 2006 by Basic Books (first published April 15th 1984)
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Jerry Jose
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Remember that iconic scene in Wonder Woman, where she crosses No Man’s Land amidst enemy bullets and inflicts damage at the other side. Well, she was ruining a relatively peaceful ecosystem built on mutual restraint over mutual punishment. World War I, on a national level, was a zero sum game where loss on one side meant gain on the other. But on local levels, specifically along the Western Front, between France and Germany, a curious system of ‘live and let live’ emerged. Trench Warfare, limite ...more
Andrew Breslin
Sep 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It’s not overstating the case to say that Robert Axelrod’s The Evolution of Cooperation is literally the most important book of the last 100 years and will change the course of human history.

Um, Andy, I think you need to revisit the definitions of certain words, like “literally” and “overstating.”

OK, granted. But the implications of the game theory research and analysis presented here are so profoundly important, it’s difficult not to descend into hyperbole. Or ascend, as the case may be. Sure,
Jurgen Appelo
Dec 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: complex-systems
Evidence that cooperation comes from selfishness.
Steven Peterson
Feb 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Robert Axelrod’s “The Evolution of Cooperation” is a classic in our understanding of why cooperation occurs in humans. The book begins with a simple question (Page vii): “When should a person cooperate, and when should that person be selfish, in an ongoing interaction with another person?” The ultimate explanation for the choice, according to Axelrod (and evolutionary theorist William Hamilton) is evolution. This is thoroughly discussed in Chapter 5, which outlines how cooperation could evolve a ...more
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the most important books ever written.
Bart Thanhauser
Nov 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
A very good book that makes me interested in reading more game theory. The first two chapters are a bit dense (but really not too bad) as Axelrod goes over the "Computer Prisoner's Dilemma Tournament" that sparked this book. These chapters are an analysis of computer programs (not as dull as it sounds), but it proves to be the evidence for his theory and the meat of the book.

A quick synopsis of the book: In the late 70s, Axelrod, a University of Michigan poli sci professor, held a Computer Tourn
Brian Powell
Nov 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Axelrod takes on the problem of how cooperation can emerge in a world of self-seeking egoists without a central authority. The question has important implications for the evolution of cooperation among inherently selfish organisms in biological systems.

Axelrod begins by examining the problem from the standpoint of game theory. Specifically, he considers how cooperation might emerge in the course of an iterated prisoner’s dilemma. The key here is that the game is iterated – that is, the players m
Sergei Moska
Feb 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book to read to get a deep understanding of how cooperation evolves and how to promote it. Most of the theory is based on simulations of the prisoner's dilemma game, with different strategies being empirically tested and strategies most similar to 'tit-for-tat' coming out far ahead. It's important to be 'nice' and avoid being the first to defect. It's also important to respond in turn, and cooperate while the cooperation is returned, but to 'defect' if your cooperation is respond ...more
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: great
This book is often touted as one of the major texts in international relations. It has applicability everywhere, from one's personal/professional dealings to US' foreign relations with Kim and Putin. Its central idea is that the Tit-for-Tat strategy, or initial cooperation followed by penalizing an opponent's defection with defection, is the ideal strategy towards any partner we engage in repeated interactions.

Tit-for-Tat is nice (does not defect first), provocable, forgiving, and consistent. I
Eshan Balachandar
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a very good read, right from the start. But the best part is that as you reach the final chapters, you see it's applications right around you. There are some very powerful ideas in there.
What will perhaps stay with me for a long time, is the strength deriving from having a reputation as a bully. If you're willing to pay the costs needed to establish your reputation, the benefits might far exceed them. I see the sense in US engaging in the occasional conflict, despite the immediate costs
Aug 30, 2017 rated it liked it
This book contained fascinating subject matter which was unfortunately greatly diminished by lackluster writing and presentation, and a significant lack of editing. I love math, and for a book to make math seem dull is kind of criminal. Also, there was way too much repetition. It was repetitive. And redundant. And, believe it or not, repetitive.

To sum up the points of interest, the most successful tactics to use in an iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma-type situation (and these situations are truly abu
Augusto Pascutti
Nov 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In a world where a book sells for their cover and title, it is easy to grab a book titled "The cure for cancer" and read a story about a dying girl loving a boy. It is easy to underestimate this book by its title. Don't.

It takes a mathematical formula showing that the possibility of cooperation increases with the number of interactions and applies it on other fields: biology, political sciences, etc.

As any concept, you accept it because you cannot prove it wrong. Which doesn't mean it is easy to
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Although this book was written over 30 years ago it has a striking relevancy today as the social sciences increasingly look towards ecological and evolutionary theories to help explain social phenomena. I thoroughly enjoyed the extended discussion around an relatively simple game (the prisoner dilemma) that can characterise many social and commercial interactions.

Readers who are interested in experimental economics or complexity theory can draw out many parallels in this work with many of the mo
Jared Peterson
Feb 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Probably one of the more interesting books I have read. It may not be for everybody, but it really helped me to have a more intuitive understanding of how societies and morality form, and how agents (people) make decisions when in a group context. After reading this, I look at almost all societal problems a little bit differently. It is Game Theory applied to society, and the conclusions are fascinating.
John Kaufmann
Short book full of a big idea - how cooperation emerges. Axelrod describes an experiment where players develop strategies that compete against each other in an iterated game of Prisoner's Dilemma to see which strategy fares best - cooperation, defection, punishment, or some combination thereof. The reason I gave the book 5-stars is that it stimulated my mind to ponder the implications and ask a host of what-if questions.
Lucas Ou-Yang
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is phenomenal, it is in the same vein as and even reuses studies from Richard Dawkins’ Selfish Gene.

If you don’t have time or would rather not purchase this book, check out Axelrod’s paper “The Evolution of Norms”
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this for my World Politics class that is heavily focused on International Relations theory. This class had a section on game theory and bargaining models and this book has definitely influenced the way I process relationships.
Rhys Lindmark
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Best systems/game theory book besides "Thinking in Systems".
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A foundational text in game theory. A great start, and not overly technical, although there is sufficient technical details there for those who enjoy them.
Jason Comely
Read this book, before you get into negotiations of any kind.
Jano Suchal
Sep 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved it. A simple model, that explains a lot of cooperation phenomenons from real world.
Paul Oostenrijk
Nov 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Good book to get into behavioral studies concerning game theory
Sean Rosenthal
Oct 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Interesting Quotes:

"The overall record of TIT FOR TAT [in iterated Prisoners' Dilemma competitions] is very impressive. To recapitulate, in the second round, TIT FOR TAT achieved the highest average score of the sixty-two entries in the tournament. It also achieved the highest score in five of the six hypothetical tournaments which were constructed by magnifying the effects of different types of rules from the second round. And in the sixth hypothetical tournament it came in second. Finally, TIT
Mar 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
A bit academic, but still pretty easy to read and a fun exploration of the prisoner's dilemma in a wide variety of hypothetical and concrete contexts.

You may also recognize parts of this from a Radiolab episode :)


We all know that the success of the tit-for-tat strategy depends on repeated interactions, the assumption that "the future casts a large enough shadow onto the present." So "one specific implication is that if the other player is unlikely to be around much longer because of appar
Vlad Olaru
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: personal-library
This book definitely deserves a re-read because the ideas are so simple at times, but such far reaching implications, that I often wondered if I missed something.

It is written in a decent slightly academic tone and language, so no worries here.

I think this is a book recommended for just about anyone, nice or mean, altruistic or egotistic, looking for solutions for one's own life situations or trying to improve business or social settings.

I think I would have given it 5 stars (it was close) if it
Eugene Kernes
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: decision-making
Cooperation can occur in the most austere situation. Cooperation does not require both parties to be either friend or have a brain. Cooperation does require a chance that each party will meet in the future, but a chance future meeting is not sufficient. Axelrod uses situations where it is always better to defect in the short-term than cooperate, yet provides ways and reasons why parties still cooperate rather than defect. The generic representation for this situation is the Prisoners Dilemma.

Dec 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this about 15 years ago and it prompted me to read more non-fiction, more serious works, and to read more carefully. It gets three stars just for that. And since I actually remember some bits of it, it gets another star.
Feb 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: academic
Excellent book and worth reading for anyone looking at how to make better decisions/navigate the world around us. Especially important for social scientists/business people to read
Omar Halabieh
Sep 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
As the title indicates this book explores the topic of cooperation, particularly how it can emerge in a decentralized population that seeks individual maximization of self-interest. The book is split into two main sections. The first discusses cooperation through game-theory analysis of computer tournaments played. This includes the various strategies used, and the ones that enjoyed the most success. The second discusses the implications of the findings from the first section, and real-world app ...more
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From wikipedia:

Robert Axelrod (born 1943) is a Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Michigan. He has appointments in the Department of Political Science and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Prior to moving to Michigan, he taught at the University of California, Berkeley (1968-1974). He holds a BA in mathematics from the University of Chicago (1964) and a

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15 likes · 2 comments
“Based upon the tournament results and the formal propositions, four simple suggestions are offered for individual choice: do not be envious of the other player’s success; do not be the first to defect; reciprocate both cooperation and defection; and do not be too clever.” 4 likes
“under suitable conditions, cooperation can indeed emerge in a world of egoists without central authority. To” 0 likes
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