When I first was required to read Jane Austen, I thought, “Uh-oh. Chick lit.” I was surprised and pleased to find that my preconceptions were not only ill-founded, but absurdly off-base. I have nothing but admiration for her deadly wit and humor, and now count her among my favorite 19th-century writers.
Modern game theory is generally dated to 1944, with the publication of von Neumann’s“Theory of Games and Economic Behavior,” which imagined human interactions as a series of moves and countermoves aimed at maximizing “payoff.” Since then the discipline has thrived, often dominating political science, economics and biology departments with densely mathematical analyses of phenomena as diverse as nuclear brinkmanship, the fate of protest movements, stock trading and predator behavior.
But a century and a half earlier, Mr. Chwe argues, Austen was very deliberately trying to lay philosophical groundwork for a new theory of strategic action, sometimes charting territory that today’s theoreticians have themselves failed to reach.