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Compleat Strategyst

J. D. WIlliams's book The Compleat Stragegyst: Being a Primer on the Theory of Games of Strategy (1954, revised 1966) was formative to my thinking when I chanced upon a copy in the Austin Public Library and read it in the mid-1960s. It's full of cute, easy-to-understand, relevant examples of how to set up and solve two-person zero-sum "games" — quantitative situations where one player's gain is the other's loss. Lessons learned from Williams turn out to be valuable in countless life-contexts. The biggest lesson: it's possible to can think quantitatively about, model, and maybe derive an optimal solution when things are complicated and conflict-ridden. That's empowering.

And hurrah!The Compeat Strategyst is available free, online ([1]). Rereading the "Preface to the First Edition" conveys some of John Williams's charming self-deprecating humor. For instance, on the conversation that the author's colleagues had which led to the decision to write the book:

Not recognizing that the discussion had reached a reasonable and natural stopping point, the group went on to nominate someone to write the book. After they coursed far and wide, and discussed many fine, though oblivious, candidates, it was anticlimactic to find myself chosen. The qualifications which won, or lost, the election are possibly worth enumerating: (1) I was at hand, and available; it is always immediately evident to research workers that an administrator is available. (2) While associated for some years, sympathetically, with the field of Game Theory, I was a compete ignoramus regarding most of its highly technical aspects; and I would probably not learn enough of these while writing the book to contaminate seriously the message that should be transmitted. (3) I was admirably situated, both organizationally and because of a natural bent to conserve energy, to call freely on my colleagues for aid and counsel; and the thus-shared burden would be more tolerable to all.

Echoes of Jerome K. Jerome's style in Three Men in a Boat! Williams continues to describe the goals of his book, including the dream that, "We believe it possible that Game Theory, as it develops — or something like it — may become an important concept and force in many phases of life." Alas, for most folks, that probably hasn't happened yet. Maybe some day!

(cf. MinimaxStrategy (1999-09-05), DippyHeuristics (2005-08-16), ...) - ^z - 2013-11-25