New York Times
April 22, 2013
It’s not every day that someone stumbles upon a major new strategic thinker during family movie night. But that’s what happened to Michael Chwe, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, when he sat down with his children some eight years ago to watch Clueless, the 1995 romantic comedy based on Jane Austen’s Emma.
Mr. Chwe (pronounced CHEH), the author of papers like “Farsighted Coalitional Stability” and “Anonymous Procedures for Condorcet’s Model: Robustness, Nonmonotonicity and Optimality,” had never cracked Emma or Pride and Prejudice. But on screen, he saw glimmers of a strategic intelligence that would make Henry Kissinger blush.
“This movie was all about manipulation,” Mr. Chwe, a practitioner of the hard-nosed science of game theory, said recently by telephone. “I had always been taught that game theory was a mathematical thing. But when you think about it, people have been thinking about strategic action for a long time.”
Mr. Chwe set to doing his English homework, and now his assignment is in. Jane Austen, Game Theorist, just published by Princeton University Press, is more than the larky scholarly equivalent of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. In 230 diagram-heavy pages, Mr. Chwe argues that Austen isn’t merely fodder for game-theoretical analysis, but an unacknowledged founder of the discipline itself: a kind of Empire-waisted version of the mathematician and cold war thinker John von Neumann, ruthlessly breaking down the stratagems of 18th-century social warfare.