Game Changers: Stories of the Revolutionary Minds behind Game Theory
When I first received this book, I was anticipating either a collection of biographies of mathematicians who contributed to game theory (the title is after all Game Changers), or a historical evolution of game theory (the book description describes it as a “lively history of game theory”) – it was neither. Instead, it was a fictionalized account of real mathematicians expounding their theories through the book’s chapters. The preface does warn readers that the accounts are fictionalized, and offers the rationale as: “Since it is a Sisyphean task to present history as it actually was, I thought it might be more amusing and perhaps even more instructive for readers if the historical facts were transformed into fictional, dramatized accounts.”
Unfortunately, the evolution of game theory or the biographies of those who contributed to its development is mesmerizing precisely because it features real events and people who struggled with complex problems and relied on mathematics for insight. The theory itself is captivating because it underpins the behavioral economics and psychology of risk perception that play into the contemporary world of big data, lighting-fast computers, and complex decision-making algorithms.
The book is a series of loosely connected vignettes, each of which illustrates some facet of game theory through a series of (fictional) interactions among individuals who conceived of the various ideas. The dialogues, thoughts, and actions of the individuals cannot be relied on for historical accuracy, and in some cases are not representative of the actual relationships among the (real) individuals portrayed in the stories. However it is unfair to criticize the book on historical, philosophical, or mathematical grounds as it only claims to deliver a collection of stories. These may appeal to readers unfamiliar with game theory but may not appeal to more critical readers.