Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Book Review -- Jane Austen, Game Theorist

Jane Austen, Game Theorist by Michael Suk-Young Chwe

It only took me 6 months to finish reading a book!  It wasn't the book's fault, either.

I know next to nothing about game theory, but I know a little bit about Jane Austen and her novels, so I picked this up after hearing an interview with the author on the Freak-o-nomics podcast.  It's been sitting around for a long while, and this year I finally dove in.

I found it pretty darn interesting, although less from learning about game theory (although I may explore that topic later).  It's an interesting analysis of the novels and in particular certain characters, exploring why they act as they do and what Austen could be saying.  I especially appreciated Chew's take on Lady Catherine and Mr. Collings (from Pride and Prejudice), and how their actions are a result of cluelessness that could be related to how they use social status to interpret the world.  Since social status and relative status are underlying structures in all of Austen's work, those ideas appealed to me especially.

I also have yet another reason to revisit Mansfield Park, my least favorite of the novels, as Chwe casts a bit more light on Fanny Price (I wanted to slap her throughout the novel, mostly from frustration) and the reasoning -- or lack of ability to reason -- that guides her action and inaction.  I was very put off by Austen's "morality story" novel, but it's been several years since I read it and it might look better now.

I don't have much of an emotional reaction to the book because it is very intellectual (but conversational and easy to read).  The author dips into a variety of stories beyond Austen to explain his ideas, which makes game theory much easier to grasp.  He even goes into the reasons why both a grammatical approach and a mathematical/visual approach give different ways to understand the ideas.

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In other reading news, I have a few books lined up to finish this summer (I'm keeping my ambitions small because of the problems I am having reading, some of which involve my vision and difficulty finding good reading glasses).  I am about 1/3 through Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash,  I've got a marker in the new book The Founding Myth.  I went to the book signing with Andrew Seidel, which was especially good, and the book (I'm one chapter in) is full of useful information and history.  I also got the audio book of the first in the Amber series,  Nine Princes in Amber, which I've tried to read many many years ago and now feel like trying again. I have some fun reading also lined up, but I'll discuss those as I finish books.  Right now, if I finish 4 books over the summer, I will be happy.  It will be more than I've done for a while.

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