Game theory--the study of how people make choices while interacting with others--is one of the most popular technical approaches in social science today. But as Michael Chwe reveals in his insightful new book, Jane Austen explored game theory's core ideas in her six novels roughly two hundred years ago. Jane Austen, Game Theorist shows how this beloved writer theorized choice and preferences, prized strategic thinking, argued that jointly strategizing with a partner is the surest foundation for intimacy, and analyzed why superiors are often strategically clueless about inferiors. With a diverse range of literature and folktales, this book illustrates the wide relevance of game theory and how, fundamentally, we are all strategic thinkers.
Although game theory's mathematical development began in the Cold War 1950s, Chwe finds that game theory has earlier subversive historical roots in Austen's novels and in "folk game theory" traditions, including African American folktales. Chwe makes the case that these literary forebears are game theory's true scientific predecessors. He considers how Austen in particular analyzed "cluelessness"--the conspicuous absence of strategic thinking--and how her sharp observations apply to a variety of situations, including U.S. military blunders in Iraq and Vietnam.
Jane Austen, Game Theorist brings together the study of literature and social science in an original and surprising way.
Michael Suk-Young Chwe is associate professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge (Princeton).
"Jane Austen, Game Theorist . . . is more than the larky scholarly equivalent of 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.'. . . Mr. Chwe argues that Austen isn't merely fodder for game-theoretical analysis, but an unacknowledged founder of the discipline itself: a kind of Empire-waisted version of the mathematician and cold war thinker John von Neumann, ruthlessly breaking down the stratagems of 18th-century social warfare."--Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times
"[A] convincing case for how mathematical models and fictional narratives can work towards reciprocal illustration."--Jonathan Sachs, Times Literary Supplement
"This is such a fabulous book--carefully written, thoughtful and insightful . . ."--Guardian.co.uk's Grrl Scientist blog
"[B]lends two very different subjects--game theory and literature--delightfully."--Siddarth Singh, Mint
"Well researched and with an excellent index, the book will appeal to Austen fans who can see her characters in another light . . ."--Choice
"When an intelligent, knowledgeable reader with a new distinctive viewpoint engages intensely with a great work of literature, the results are usually worthy of attention. There is much that is valuable in Chwe's book."--Ernest Davis, SIAM News
"Michael Chwe shows that Jane Austen is a strategic analyst--a game theorist whose characters exercise strategic thinking. Game theorists usually study war, business, crime and punishment, diplomacy, politics, and one-upmanship. Jane Austen studies social advancement, romantic relationships, and even gamesmanship. Game theorists will enjoy this venture into unfamiliar territory, while Jane Austen fans will enjoy being illuminated about their favorite author's strategic acumen--and learn a little game theory besides."--Thomas C. Schelling, Nobel Laureate in Economics
Table of Contents
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Michael Suk-Young Chwe: