Prisoner's Dilemma

Front Cover
Doubleday, 1992 - Mathematics - 290 pages
20 Reviews
Should you watch public television without pledging?...Exceed the posted speed limit?...Hop a subway turnstile without paying? These questions illustrate the so-called "prisoner's dilemma", a social puzzle that we all face every day. Though the answers may seem simple, their profound implications make the prisoner's dilemma one of the great unifying concepts of science, an idea that has influenced leaders across the political spectrum and informed our views of conflicts ranging from the Cuban missile crisis to the Persian Gulf War. Watching players bluff in a poker game inspired John von Neumann--father of the modern computer and one of the sharpest minds of the century--to construct game theory, a mathematical study of conflict and deception. Game theory was readily embraced at the RAND Corporation, the archetypical think tank charged with formulating military strategy for the atomic age, and in 1950 two RAND scientists made a momentous discovery. Called the "prisoner's dilemma", it is a disturbing and mind-bending game where two or more people may betray the common good for individual gain. Introduced shortly after the Soviet Union acquired the atomic bomb, the prisoner's dilemma quickly became a popular allegory of the nuclear arms race. Intellectuals such as von Neumann and Bertrand Russell joined military and political leaders in rallying to the "preventive war" movement, which advocated a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union. Though the Truman administration rejected preventive war the United States entered into an arms race with the Soviets and game theory developed into a controversial tool of public policy--alternately accused of justifying arms races and touted as theonly hope of preventing them. A masterful work of science writing, Prisoner's Dilemma weaves together a biography of the brilliant and tragic von Neumann, a history of pivotal phases of the cold war, and an investigation of game theory's far-reaching influence on public policy today. Most important, Prisoner's Dilemma is the incisive story of a revolutionary idea that has been hailed as a landmark of twentieth-century thought.

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
3
4 stars
12
3 stars
5
2 stars
0
1 star
0

Review: Prisoner's Dilemma

User Review  - Andrew - Goodreads

Good bio of Johnny von Neumann. Ground Zero of nuclear war, computer science, and game theory - so, a great read for someone like me, who saw WarGames four times in the summer of 1983. Read full review

Review: Prisoner's Dilemma

User Review  - Maygoon - Goodreads

This was a surprisingly enjoyable book. Thanks to a clever blend of biography, cold-war history, and math theory, this book could definitely appeal to far more people than the title itself alludes. If ... Read full review

Contents

DILEMMAS
1
JOHN VON NEUMANN
11
The Institute
17
Copyright

29 other sections not shown

Common terms and phrases

About the author (1992)

William Poundstone has been nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize. Among his seven books are "The Recursive Universe," "Labyrinths of Reason," and "Big Secrets." He has also written extensively for network television and major magazines. He lives in Los Angeles.

Bibliographic information