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A Beautiful Math: John Nash, Game Theory, and the Modern Quest for a Code of Nature

Tom Siegfried
Joseph Henry Press
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Jacquelyn A. Flowers
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Even though this book is titled A Beautiful Math, it is not the description of the math that goes with the movie A Beautiful Mind, nor is it entirely about John Nash. This book is a beautifully written survey of game theory. It goes through the origins, history, discoveries, applications, current status and future possible links of game theory. All the while, it argues for game theory as the “Code of Nature.” By the end of the book you will see why game theory may well be the answer to finding the “laws” of human behavior.

Siegfried’s book leads the reader to discover how game theory relates to economics, evolution, neuroscience, life and social sciences, physics, statistics, networks, and probability distributions. He explains two-person non-zero sum games, the minimax theorem, cooperative and non-cooperative games, and the Nash Equilibrium, then shows how they may be applied to many fields of study. Specific games are discussed and analyzed: Chess, Hawk Dove, Prisoner’s Dilemma, Public Goods, Tit for Tat, Ultimatum, Kevin Bacon, and Penny-Flipping.

Many pioneers in the field shared their experiments, past and current work, and theories with Siegfried. He presents the information to the reader in an effortless and easy to understand manner. He makes the book easy to read, even for a nonmathematical person.

Game theory is a broad and sometimes controversial field. If you believe game theory is nonsense, then do not read the book. If you believe game theory is a worthy and reputable tool of mathematics, then read the book. You may learn something. I certainly learned a great deal about a subject that I did not know much about. In the end I discovered that I knew more about game theory than I realized. We all do, and it is called “life.”

Jacquelyn A. Flowers is a high school math teacher and an adjunct math faculty member at a two-year college. She lives in a small town outside Birmingham, AL. She has a B.S. and a M.A. in Mathematics Education with a minor in engineering. She is planning on furthering her own education in the near future. She can be reached at