Monday 12 October 2015

Very Short Introductions

Robert J.C. Young, 2003
Ken Binmore, 2007
(October 2015)

A pairing prompted by absolutely no good reason whatsoever, but one which did at least serve to emphasise that I'm better with the big ideas than the tedious business of actually backing them up with numbers and evidence. But then we knew that already, didn't we?

Young's volume is a pretty disjointed affair. Deliberately so, as he claims to be presenting a 'montage' of subaltern voices and quite explicitly avoids offering any sort of overarching theory. Which is fair enough in the framing he provides, but you can't help wondering exactly who he's writing for: if it's for people who might be resistant to the postcolonial project, then a little more in the way of unifying guidance probably wouldn't have gone amiss.

He also makes a couple of quite startling claims, my favourite being: "According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term landlessness has only been written once in English, by Herman Melville in 1851." Does he seriously think it's the job of a dictionary to list every instance of a word's usage ever? It doesn't substantively subtract from his arguments except that it does rather make you wonder if he knows how 'examples' work, which is a bit of a thing given that the entire book is based around giving examples of the post-colonial experience. Still, a worthy book that covers a lot of ground in a small amount of space.

Most of the Game Theory book went over my head. The general ideas are interesting and good and necessary, and the bits where Binmore highlights the more practical applications were much more easily relatable, but I lost the thread of the actual mechanics somewhere around the second chapter and never really picked it up again. Passages like this didn't exactly help: "Any ESS in a symmetric game is necessarily an asymptotic attractor of the replicator dynamics. In its turn, an asymptotic attractor is necessarily a symmetric Nash equilibrium."


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