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Books

11 Best Books on Game Theory in 2022 (Explained!)

Jamey Muller
Updated: March 22, 2022
8 min read

Game theory has a wide range of applications. Although often used in economics, it can be utilized in business, psychology, politics, and any field requiring strategic and rule-based functions.

Learning game theory helps improve your negotiation skills and tolerance level, but it can be mentally challenging. These books can simplify the subject and make it easier for anyone to understand.

At A Glance: The 3 Best Books on Game Theory

1. Top pick: Game Theory 101
2. Runner up: The Art of Strategy
3. Also great: Game Theory: An Introduction

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Top pick
Game Theory 101: The Complete Textbook
Game Theory 101

“Game Theory 101: The Complete Textbook” by William Spaniel is a straightforward introduction to game theory, political science, and intermediate microeconomics.

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With discussions centering on the strategic and extensive form games, the book features four main lesson components, each with several chapters and subchapters.

Spaniel efficiently introduces different games of increasing difficulty while providing theoretical tools on how to solve them. 

Concepts are explained well in the book's first part, laying a solid foundation for the later chapters. This means less confusion on your part when you encounter idea clarifications as you go along. 

The book also provides clear examples to support each discussion, making it easier even for newbies to fully grasp what game theory is.

You should note that Spaniel wrote “Game Theory 101: The Complete Textbook,” expecting that his readers are pretty well-versed in algebra. 

Because of this, the formulas and the steps required to arrive at the final results are without explanation. 

If you are unfamiliar with algebra, it may be difficult to navigate certain parts of the book.

Runner up
The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist's Guide to Success in Business and Life
The Art of Strategy

Avinash Dixit and Barry J. Nelbuff penned this engaging and comprehensive guide on the practical applications of game theory in business and day-to-day life.

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In the first part of “The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist's Guide to Success in Business and Life,” you will find thorough discussions on standard game theory, with graphical explanations for a range of problems.

Meanwhile, the latter part concentrates on personal and business setbacks you may encounter daily and how specific strategies can achieve the ideal solutions.

Dixit and Nelbuff also include various tactics on how to approach political negotiations. They explain how a threat can be credible and benefit you in arbitration by providing historical approaches.

Notice that game theory is not always applicable to the problems integrated with “The Art Strategy.” Some require the usual mathematical and rational problem-solving approaches.

Even if you are not that skilled with numbers, you will be happy to learn that many of the strategies in the book simply rely on logic and are not at all mathematical.

Also great
Game Theory: An Introduction
Game Theory: An Introduction

“Game Theory: An Introduction” by Steven Tadelis skillfully combines accuracy and accessibility to discuss game theories and their many applications.

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The book provides a concise explanation of rational decision-making. There is also a good discussion on strategic and extensive form games, including Bayesian games.

Tadelis diligently investigates the implications of rationality for decision problems by going through concepts such as rationalizability and dominated strategies.

Some of the topics discussed in the book are:

•       bargaining theory

•       reputation building

•       multistage and repeated games

•       mechanism design

•       auctions

•       signaling games

Clear and engaging, “Game Theory: An Introduction” describes challenging concepts in a simple manner. 

It provides real-life examples, applications, and exercises drawn from business, economics, and political science, all backed by actual analytic data.

The book will be quite valuable to honors undergraduate students and those at the master's level. It can also be a great option if you have minimal background in mathematics.

If you are looking for an excellent introduction to game theory that is not as mathematical, this Tadelis book is the one.

#4
Theory of Games and Economic Behavior: 60th Anniversary Commemorative Edition
Theory of Games and Economic Behavior

The 60th-anniversary commemorative edition of “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior” is an expert take on how the theory of games of strategy has become established as a scientific inquiry.

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The book perceives a revolutionary mathematical theory of economic and social organization anchored on games of strategy theories.

John Von Neuman and Oskar Morgenstern expound on how game theory has transformed economics, spawning an entirely new field and how it has been extensively used in real-world situations.

For instance, game theory can be applied in the study of vaccination plans, policy choices for election candidates, and negotiations in salary in major leagues.

American mathematician Harold Kuhn wrote the foreword for this edition of the book, while Ariel Rubinstein, an Israeli economist, penned the afterword. Both have studied game theory extensively throughout their careers.

You will also find reviews and articles from various publications, including the American Economic Review. These will provide you an opportunity to fully understand game theory and its real-world applications.

Rich and multifaceted, “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior” is an essential read for the research community.

#5
The Joy of Game Theory: An Introduction to Strategic Thinking
The Joy of Game Theory

Presh Tawalkar's “The Joy of Game Theory: An Introduction to Strategic Thinking” is an entertaining read on game theory and its practical applications, without the technicalities.

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The book gives a concise overview of what game overview is and what it represents. The introduction touches briefly on the history of the study, providing light on how it has progressed to the domain that it is today.

It also provides valuable applications without being too technical. 

Tawalkar presents plenty of examples from everyday life, underscoring game theory's practical relevance. The personal anecdotes sprinkled in the book make the concept easy to understand and relatable.

Included in “The Joy of Game Theory” are some of the recent academic papers relevant to the study.

While most game theory texts contain a lot of math algorithms, Tawalkar's straightforward style will not intimidate.

You will not need an advanced math degree to understand its content. 

A quick and easy read at 154 pages, “The Joy of Game Theory” is an excellent starting point for anyone interested. 

#6
Introducing Game Theory: A Graphic Guide
Introducing Game Theory: A Graphic Guide Paperback

“Introducing Game Theory: A Graphic Guide Paperback” by Ivan Pastine and Tuvana Pastine is a stylish, nonmathematical guide to this fascinating discipline.

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The book explores the how’s and why’s of game theory, looking into various fields such as psychology, sociology, and evolutionary biology to explain why humans cooperate or clash when faced with a decision.

Insightful and engaging, it explains how everything around you results from complex mathematical calculations, including social and cultural situations. 

Illustrator Tom Humberstone brings to life critical ideas of the authors, simplifying somewhat tricky concepts and making them understandable even to those with no previous background in game theory.

Since it is a graphical guide, the book is perfect for visual learners. 

Aside from the brilliant illustrations, you will find the examples helpful in grasping discussion firmly. Pastine and Pastine even recommend a beginner text if you wish to study game theory more critically.

There is little mathematics throughout “Introducing Game Theory: A Graphic Guide Paperback.” If you are a beginner to the discipline, you will not have difficulty going through the concepts.

It is an excellent help book in developing a new perspective on the world we live in.

#7
The Infinite Game
The Infinite Game

Simon Sinek explores how businesses attain long-term success in this engaging game theory book entitled “The Infinite Game.”

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According to Sinek, there are infinite and finite games in life. 

Infinite games have no finish line, with rules and parameters that can change without warning. Finite games are the opposite, with set rules and finish line in sight.

The book explains that businesses must play infinite games to build long-standing value and growth. If players only look for short-term wins, they are meant to fail.

By applying game theory, Sinek investigates some of the most notable successes and failures in the business world, even politics, for the last century, revealing where they went right or wrong. 

He pinpoints five leadership practices to take on an infinite mindset. These includes: 

•       advance in just cause

•       build trusting teams

•       study your worthy rivals

•       prepare for existential flexibility

•       demonstrate the courage to lead

You will find a prescribed working plan for every practice that any organization can apply within the management teams.

“The Infinite Game” will guide you in understanding your own business leadership, putting what works into play.

With clear instructions and concrete schemes, it is a game theory text worth reading.

#8
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Game Theory
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Game Theory

Edward C. Rosenthal's “The Complete Idiot's Guide to Game Theory: The Fascinating Math Behind Decision-Making” is a systematic, non-technical introduction to game theory and strategic thinking.

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The book explains the importance of game theory in today's society. It also cites the role of psychology and social behavior in the discipline.

While using as little mathematics as possible, the book explains the various concepts in game theory, arranged logically from basic to complex, for easy understanding. 

Some of the topics discussed are signaling and imperfect information, auction, voting systems, cooperative games, and more.

You will find a brief discussion on the history of game theory, touching on the contributions of Nobel Prize winner John Nash and his logical underpinnings of modeling.

Side by side the classical theories are experimental shreds of evidence generously supported by examples and solutions.

Rosenthal's writing style is distinct and engaging. The simplistic charts and illustrations he included are designed to clarify concepts. 

If you are looking for an accessible primer in game theory, “The Complete Idiot's Guide to Game Theory” is a first-rate choice.

#9
Game Theory
Game Theory

Michael Maschler, Eilon Solan, and Shmuel Zamir wrote this brilliant introductory book to game theory.

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Clear and comprehensive, “Game Theory” discusses both cooperative and noncooperative game theories in detail and puts together an extensive exposition of key mathematical results.

These include games with incomplete information, vector pay-offs, bargaining set, and stable matchings. Other topics examined are equilibrium refinements, utility theory, belief hierarchies, mechanism design, and major applications. 

Relevant math subjects like linear programming and fixed-point theory are also explained.

Maschler and the rest incorporate a wide range of exercises for each chapter of the book to enhance your comprehension of game theory.

While the technical explanations follow a mathematical approach, the points are straightforward to understand. The concepts are illustrated with concrete examples from varied disciplines.

You will find the solution manual useful. If you take courses in mathematics, engineering, and economics, you definitely need this extensive guide. 

“Game Theory” is unmatched in terms of breadth of coverage and thoroughness. It is a valuable reference for any researcher. 

#10
Gladiators, Pirates and Games of Trust: How Game Theory, Strategy and Probability Rule Our Lives
Gladiators, Pirates, and Games of Trust

Haim Shapira's “Gladiators, Pirates, and Games of Trust: How Game Theory, Strategy, and Probability Rule Our Lives” is a light but accurate exploration of the mathematics and economics of game theory.

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The book explains why game theory is essential and how it is helpful to our daily lives. 

Shapira uses dilemmas and paradoxes to demonstrate the principles of game theory as applied to actual situations. 

You will get familiarized with John F. Nash and his Nash equilibrium, learn the basics of the art of negotiation, know the importance of cooperation and understand the significance of the interactions between decision-makers.

The book also gives instructions on identifying aspects of the prisoner's dilemma, earning trust, and issuing ultimatums. 

Though not in-depth, it is well-written and easy to read, making it a good starting point to game theory.

Shapira skillfully integrates mathematics, economics, and behavioral psychology by providing simple examples with clear solutions. The discussions are realistic enough to inspire real thoughts.

A wholly amusing read, “Gladiators, Pirates, and Games of Trust” is a book worth your time.

#11
The Evolution of Cooperation: Revised Edition
The Evolution of Cooperation

A valuable resource for politics and international relations, “The Evolution of Cooperation” by Robert Axelrod concludes this list of the best game theory books.

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The book offers an absorbing introduction to the theory of cooperation and how its principles can help you think better in almost all aspects, from spewing military tactics to handling family dynamics.

There are two main sections. 

The first part focuses on cooperation through analysis of game theory on Axelrod's famed Computer Prisoners Dilemma Tournament, highlighting the strategies used and the actions of those who enjoyed the most success.

The latter section of the book is a practical discourse of the implications of these findings and how they can be applied in politics, biology, and sociology.

Axelrod emphasizes that it is cooperation and not competition, that is the best chance for survival. 

He includes a thorough analysis of actual events and experiments to validate this hypothesis, exploring the essentials to convince the most critical of thinkers.

Written in a clear and informal style, “The Evolution of Cooperation” is definitely a joy to read.

Written by
Jamey Muller
I'm the head-writer @ Knowledge Eager (or, in plain English, I'm the guy writing the majority of the content here). Addicted to the stock market, football, sushi and tacos.
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Jamey Muller
I'm the head-writer @ Knowledge Eager (or, in plain English, I'm the guy writing the majority of the content here). Addicted to the stock market, football, sushi and tacos.