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Outplayed will change how you interact with others forever.

David Lockwood’s second book, Outplayed: How Game Theory Is Used Against Us, will show you the ways in which people try to take advantage of you and how you can stop them. It will guide you on how to structure incentives to get others to work with and not against you. It will help you determine when to cooperate—and when to compete.

Outplayed is a book about game theory. Game theory is fundamentally about strategy and thus has applications far beyond poker, chess, or checkers. Game theory is part of our everyday lives, and it plays an important role in economics, finance, political science, and biology. After reading this book, you will understand how game theory is used against you. You will learn that the optimal strategy for a game undertaken only once is completely different from that of a game played repeatedly. You will come to know that if you want others to work with you, an Old Testament “an eye-for-an-eye” strategy is better than a New Testament “Turn the other cheek.” You will gain a different perspective on the differences between males and females and why the strategies of monogamy and polygamy are the primary weapons in the “battle of the sexes.” You will come to know why game theory sometimes determines who wins elections, and you will learn to question the assumptions behind the most important game currently being played—the game known as mutual assured destruction, or MAD, a deadly version of the prisoner’s dilemma.

Previous books on game theory were inaccessible to most, due to the high level of mathematical fluency required to fully understand them. But there are no equations or proofs here. Lockwood, a former member of the faculty of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, applies game theory to a broad range of topics and real-world examples without the formulas. Through concise analysis and real-life stories, you will come to understand that the interests of individuals and groups are frequently not aligned, and you will understand how individuals use game theory against others. But once armed with a knowledge of game theory, there is no reason to be outplayed again.

After exposing how survivor bias tricks everyday people into bad decisions in Fooled by the Winners, Lockwood offers an inviting and alarming look at the ways that game theory—that life-is-poker field of mathematics the he defines as a “set of tools, consisting of axioms, proofs, and equations, with which to plot strategy across a wide variety of fields”—is used to take advantage of millions, on global, national, business, and interpersonal scales. Drawing on examples that range from the “mutually assured destruction” logic of nuclear brinksmanship to who in a relationship wields the remote control, Lockwood makes the case that it’s surprisingly common for us to get “played” by strategists in auctions, elections, financial markets and elsewhere—and offers advice about what to do about it.

In engaging, conversational prose, Lockwood guides readers through a surprising history of game theory dilemmas from literature, picking apart choices and outcomes in Bible stories, Sun Tzu, Rousseau, and others, before offering thumbnail histories of game theorists John von Neumann and John Nash and the classic “Prisoner’s Dilemma” and Nash Equilibrium, which posited that there’s “at least one optimal strategy for any finite multiple-person non-zero-sum game”—and that the outcomes of games reward one individual rather than a group. Outplayed challenges readers to think of more real-life situations as gamelike, presenting strategies to avoid being outplayed and to increase cooperation.

Lockwood takes on fascinating cases and studies in clear prose as he digs into this intersection of math and human psychology. He’s an appealing guide, especially when the material gets heady, as in chapters about evolution and systems of voting (including the complexities of the electoral college). Explanations of complex phenomena make up much more of this guide than guidance about how to deal with it, but it’s still an eye-opening introduction that will reward the curious.

Takeaway: An illuminating introduction to the ways game theory shapes our lives.

Great for fans of: Presh Talwalkar’s The Joy of Game Theory, Avinash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff’s The Art of Strategy.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-