Prisoner's Dilemma: John Von Neumann, Game Theory, And The Puzzle Of The Bomb by William Poundstone

Prisoner's Dilemma: John Von Neumann, Game Theory, And The Puzzle Of The Bomb

byWilliam Poundstone

Paperback | January 1, 1993

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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. 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 the only 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.

About The Author

William Poundstone studied physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of The Recursive Universe, about information theory and physics, and Labyrinths of Reason, an exploration of paradox in science. He is also known as the author of such popular books as Big Secrets, The Ultimate, and Prisoner’s Dilemma. He ...

Details & Specs

Title:Prisoner's Dilemma: John Von Neumann, Game Theory, And The Puzzle Of The BombFormat:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 0.8 inPublished:January 1, 1993Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:038541580X

ISBN - 13:9780385415804

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John von Neumann invented the digital computer, played a key role in the development of the atom bomb, constructed a branch of mathematics known as game theory, and became a defender of a movement to bomb the Russians before they could bomb us. Now comes a biography of this controversial genius and an exploration of his greatest idea--one that nearly triggered a nuclear war in 1950. Photographs

Editorial Reviews

"Both a fascinating biography of von Neumann, the Hungarian exile whose mathematical theories were building blocks for the A-bomb and the digital computer, and a brilliant social history of game theory and its role in the Cold War and nuclear arms race."--San Francisco Chronicle