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The Strategy of Conflict [Paperback]

Thomas C. Schelling
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 14 1981
A series of closely interrelated essays on game theory, this book deals with an area in which progress has been least satisfactory—the situations where there is a common interest as well as conflict between adversaries: negotiations, war and threats of war, criminal deterrence, extortion, tacit bargaining. It proposes enlightening similarities between, for instance, maneuvering in limited war and in a traffic jam; deterring the Russians and one's own children; the modern strategy of terror and the ancient institution of hostages.

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In eminently lucid and often charming language, Professor Schelling's work opens to rational analysis a crucial field of politics, the international politics of threat, or as the current term goes, of deterrence. In this field, the author's analysis goes beyond what has been done by earlier writers. It is the best, most incisive, and most stimulating book on the subject. (Annals of the American Academy)

An important contribution to understanding the conduct of the ambiguous conflict between the communist bloc on the one hand and the United States and its Free World Allies on the other. (Journal of Politics)

Against the backdrop of the nuclear arms race in the late 1950s, Thomas Schelling's book The Strategy of Conflict set forth his vision of game theory as a unifying framework for the social sciences. Schelling showed that a party can strengthen its position by overtly worsening its own options, that the capability to retaliate can be more useful than the ability to resist an attack, and that uncertain retaliation is more credible and more efficient than certain retaliation. These insights have proven to be of great relevance for conflict resolution and efforts to avoid war. Schelling's work prompted new developments in game theory and accelerated its use and application throughout the social sciences. Notably, his analysis of strategic commitments has explained a wide range of phenomena, from the competitive strategies of firms to the delegation of political decision power. (The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)

About the Author

Thomas C. Schelling is Distinguished University Professor, Department of Economics and School of Public Affairs, University of Maryland and Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Political Economy, Emeritus, Harvard University. He is co-recipient of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy read Oct. 13 2007
Format:Paperback
This is a fairly complicated book - more like a PhD/Masters thesis. The concepts are useful but not described well. Things are made complicated, sometimes unnecessarily so.
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Format:Paperback
Since its first publication in 1960, the strategy of Conflict is still relevant today. His concepts of strategic moves and random strategy can still be applied to the increasing complicated international affairs. It's definitely a timeless classic for game theoretical study of international relations.
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5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating Dec 6 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I disagree with the review that describes Schelling's primary contribution here as the idea of focal points. This is one of the key insights in the book, but only one. He also has a fascinating discussion of threats, promises, and credibility and the relation of these issues to national security issues. The connection is explored further in Schelling's Arms and Influence, while this book is more theoretical in its orientation. I highly recommend this book to anyone who knows a little game theory but is frustrated by the level of abstraction which pervades the theory.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone should read this book Sept. 7 2006
By P.C. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"The Strategy of Conflict" changed the development of game theory in several ways, but none was more important than Schelling's focus on real life examples, situations or games that are relevant to what we encounter in our daily lives. Before Schelling, game theory analysis was abstract and mathematical; it focused on zero-sum games, where interests were purely conflicting and there were no incentives to cooperate. Game theorists built convincing abstract models for these types of games, but its application was limited, since most interactions were a mixture of conflict and mutual dependence. In other words, analysis focused on pure conflict, a limiting cases of real world interactions, while in "The Strategy of Conflict" Schelling attempts to generalize game theory analysis to richer games that are `played' in the real world. His generalization introduced the concepts, commitments, threats, promises, communication systems, focal points, and randomization of strategies into game theory (chapters 1~8), which was then used to analyze the its applications in national security (chapters 9 and 10).

If you are studying game theory, this book is a must read. If you are just interested in game theory, I'd recommend reading this book too.
97 of 108 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Schelling�s major contribution to game theory Aug. 6 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Schelling's major contribution to game theory (and the study of culture) was the concept of focal points. He observed that in real life bargaining each player would rather make a concession than fail to reach any agreement at all. And there are a wide range of outcomes that would be preferable to both of them than no agreement at all. Now without some procedure to select among those acceptable alternatives, people might never come to a satisfactory agreement. This is where the key concept of "focal points" comes into play. Schelling defines focal points as "intuitively perceived mutual expectations, shared appreciations, preoccupations, obsessions, and sensitivities to suggestion." He criticized traditional game theorists for failing to recognize that "players" actually achieve much better coordination and cooperation when they are able to rely upon focal points. Although he does not make this analogy, it seems that focal points represent some sort of a "templat! e" or "blueprint" that helps to unify understanding and coordinate action. However, for Schelling, "focal points" are quite arbitrary-whether and to what degree they serve to coordinate action and expectations is the key question.
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating Dec 6 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I disagree with the review that describes Schelling's primary contribution here as the idea of focal points. This is one of the key insights in the book, but only one. He also has a fascinating discussion of threats, promises, and credibility and the relation of these issues to national security issues. The connection is explored further in Schelling's Arms and Influence, while this book is more theoretical in its orientation. I highly recommend this book to anyone who knows a little game theory but is frustrated by the level of abstraction which pervades the theory.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable game theory April 24 2010
By Grant Gibbs - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Other reviewers have explained Schelling's insights, so I won't bother to touch on them.

Often you read books where economists find new applications for known principles. Often you read books where economists lay down some new insight they've had into what can be a very technical field.

Strategy of Conflict does both. Schelling does a wonderful job finding applications for *new* insights and explaining them in a readable way.
20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Major contribution and still relevant after decades Nov. 8 2003
By Bill Jia Xie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Since its first publication in 1960, the strategy of Conflict is still relevant today. His concepts of strategic moves and random strategy can still be applied to the increasing complicated international affairs. It's definitely a timeless classic for game theoretical study of international relations.
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