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The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  305 ratings  ·  27 reviews
In the mid twentieth century the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein famously asserted that games are indefinable; there are no common threads that link them all. "Nonsense," says the sensible Bernard Suits: "playing a game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles." The short book Suits wrote demonstrating precisely that is as playful as it is insightful, as st ...more
Paperback, 179 pages
Published November 9th 2005 by Broadview Press Inc (first published 1978)
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Sep 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Great, great little book this is.

First, I love the Socratic dialogue as a tool for opening and widening ideas. It is not only great as a method of presentation, I find, but as a method of doing "philosophy" in general, and not only for Socrates and Plato, but even for humble beings like myself. I find that this is a really great tool for me to test one's own convictions. In the absence of people to converse and challenge me, I often find myself in an internal, imagined dialogue: Without answeri
Anthony Buckley
Jan 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Wittgenstein's idea that there is no single feature shared by all (or even most) of the objects we call "games" is very disturbing. Worse, he said we could understand any specific meaning of the word "game" only within a particular "game". This intentionally confusing idea is here challenged by Bernard Suits in a deceptively intelligent, witty, even revolutionary book.
Apr 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
In one of the appendices, Suits quotes a line from a review of his book in The Ottawa citizen that he claims 'set my teeth on edge': "a pleasing, unusual book with an odd texture--something like a sandwich of gravel and jam." Oddly enough, I think this criticism more or less hits the mark. The jam is the overly jokey/corny structure, the gravel is the indigestible and didactic logic embedded throughout. Maybe less like a gravel and jam sandwich and more like a box of Monty Python chocolates:

Sep 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
The original publication is an especially beautiful book, with a striking illustration by Frank Newfeld at the outset of each chapter. I haven't come across the new printing, but it would be a real shame if the illustrations were missing.

The book is a dialogue on the meaning of games and the potential for play to stand as the basis for a valid and principled ethos. The discussion is between a kind of guru of leisure, based cleverly on the character of the profligate grasshopper from Aesop's fabl
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Sep 08, 2013 rated it liked it
This book is simultaneously strange and very engaging. An interesting insight into game theory and the definition of a game. The premiss is quite unique.

Suits definition of a game is helpful in game studies. His focus in this book was to define a game and then use a series of 'but what about' or 'what if' scenarios to strengthen his initial definition. The unexpected and most curious part of this book is the entire text is a conversation between two ants and a dying grasshopper. Once you recove
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I loved the way he used the story of the grasshoppper to trick the reader into learning about philosophy and thinking in the socratic method without blantantly defining these terms. It challenged the way I thought about how to live life itself and what it means to view life as a game. I had never thought of it in this way until reading this book.
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
of the greatest philosophical works i’ve read; humorous and approachable, as accessible to the discipline’s neophytes as it is rigorous for its veterans, to everyone’s benefit. too bad it isn’t more widely circulated.
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
very bizarre very interesting read. honestly the most important chapters are 2, 3, 14, and 15. a socratic exploration of game play and the function of sport in utopia.

it begins with a riddle in the form of a dream that the grasshopper has: there is a world in which everyone thinks they are doing work, but are actually playing a game. the moment that grasshopper explains what is going on, the person disappears.

the solution to the riddle is that the people in grasshopper's dream are living in a ut
Kevin Quinley
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020
The Grasshopper is a philosophical defense of the assertion that game playing is the fundamental activity of life. Bernard Suits delivers his thesis through the impetuous namesake of the Grasshopper and Ant fable. It begins as a charming dialogue between the Grasshopper and a skeptical observer, and later gives way to a dense philosophical treatise defending his viewpoint. Suits introduces the concept of the lusory attitude as critical to game playing – that is the, voluntary acceptance of ineff ...more
I was going to rate this at four stars due to some questions raised that I will need to consider more deeply before I can decide whether to agree with Suits on certain points. But I rated it five because it is by far one of the most engaging and compelling exercises in pure philosophy (as opposed to what Robert Pirsig derides as “philosophology,” the literary archaeologist’s approach to philosophy, which clings to the face of past thinkers for excessive fear of falling into error, and so fails t ...more
Doug Levandowski
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2019
While the book has some good ideas about the nature of games, I found the conceit (a wise Grasshopper lecturing one or two of his followers) worse than tedious. Near the end of the book, the author jokes that the whole book is thus written as a kind of game in and of itself. As someone looking for honed philosophical thought on the nature of games, I was frequently bored with the narrative diversions.
Apr 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, games
Enough wit and story to make a very intellectually stimulating book fun to read.
The Author doesn't make a moral argument about utopia, but cleverly uses it to illustrate what constitutes games. If I could give it more stars I would.
Peter Hession
Oct 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I probably need to reread this. It required my full attention to think through all the arguments presented. An enjoyable read on games and their place in life.
Oct 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english, essai
An interesting thesis on games (and a short essay on play). It seems sound to the reader and it is entertaining to read.
Paco Galán
Jul 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It is a classic of philosophy of play and game
Jun 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy, sports
"The Grasshopper" is unique philosophy monograph. It is part narrative, part dialogue, part treatise. It is also humorous and easy to read. It, quite self-consciously, plays off elements from Socratic dialogues, the New Testament, and Aesop’s fables. Though I don’t agree with many of its philosophic conclusions, the work, overall, is successful at pulling all these elements off. That is, I enjoyed reading it and found it enlightening.

The main focus of the book is an extended discussion of the d
James Klagge
Jul 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
An odd but engaging book that takes on Wittgenstein's challenge to define "game." After considering only a few possibilities, Wittgenstein decides that game has no essential definition--that is, that there are no necessary and sufficient conditions true of all games (as "closed plane figure with 3 straight sides" gives necessary and sufficient conditions for being a triangle). Suits offers this definition of playing a game: "engaging in an activity directed towards bringing about a specific stat ...more
Jeremy Hornik
Jul 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: games
A playful and intellectually precise attempt to define games. The book is written as a series of dialogues between the Grasshopper (the foe of the Ant from the old fable) and his students, Skepticus and Prudence. It's quite funny. The dialogue has a great deal of wit, and the examples he draws to support his points are frequently hilarious. (For example, he imagines Sir Edmund Hilary, having climbed Everest, meeting a man in a bowler with a copy of the Times who has just taken the escalator up t ...more
Mar 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a remarkably and unexpectedly insightful book on game theory. I was researching for my thesis, and came across a reference quoting Suits' definition of games. I thought the definition was remarkably profound, and wanted to use it for my paper. Since I prefer to read the original source myself, I picked up the book and was pleasantly surprised to find a philosophical treatise on the nature of games as told through the mouth of Aesop's grasshopper.

My thesis is on sports, and in this book
Oct 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: someday-library
Really enjoyable exploration of a definition of games, written in fine philosophical style, with poise and wit and colorfully imagined anecdotes. Sir Edmund Hillary arrives at the top of Everest, triumphant and more dead than alive, to find a man who, with a copy of the morning paper under his elbow, has taken the elevator up the other side; avid chess players receive boxes and boxes of captured chess pieces in the mail; two retired generals hold a companionable gaming feud, with net-piercing te ...more
This is a notable contribution to the literature on games, and should be read if that is something that you are into. I wouldn't highly recommend it as a reading experience: perhaps some people enjoy the refashioning of thought experiments as full-fledged fictional narratives, but I'm not one of them. The "clever" form does make what would otherwise be a dry exploration more readable, but it caused me a significant degree of irritation as well. Suits provides a definition of games, which will pr ...more
Jul 10, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: thought-religion
Meh. I guess this compares well to other works of philosophy because the parody of Socrates is mildly entertaining, but most of it is semantics and definitions. Worse, I doubt those definitions are correct or of practical use. Far better are books like Stuart Brown's Play or Joseph Meeker's Comedy of Survival. The thoughts on utopia redeem this slightly: what would humans do when work is no longer necessary for survival? Games must be part of the meaning of life.
Dec 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I am going to have to get my own copy of this, I feel like I need to read it three or four more times to really get my mind around all of what is going on here. It reminds me of _Godel, Escher, Bach_, and like that book is both quite straightforward and deeply profound. I like books that make my mind feel stretched and exercised.
Chris Hineman
Oct 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Good philosophical read about games and how it relates to society.
I read this for a philosophy of sport and recreation course.
May 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
True existentialists are the best game players.
J.M.  Barbiere
rated it it was amazing
Aug 04, 2016
Cristiana Calin
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Feb 03, 2016
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