Days of our Lives!

May 25, 2008

Book Review: Games Indians Play – V.Raghunathan

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 8:48 PM
Book Name: Games Indians Play : Why We Are the Way We Are
Author: V.Raghunathan
Year: 2006
Genre: Non-fiction –> Cultural/Social
This para from the book sums up the author’s central argument:
When I jump a queue or a red light, or throw that garbage on the sidewalk, I am taking a rational ‘squeal’ decision, since it seems to get me ahead of others or make life easier for me. Here I am being privately smart.
But then, as others are no less rational, intelligent and smart, they too start squealing for the same reason and before we know it, we have unruly traffic, filthy streets and stinking urinals. So collectively we are all worse off, just as the two prisoners in the dilemma*.
*Play the prisoner’s dilemma. Wiki link.
How could I resist a book that supposedly combines game theory and behavioural economics? The trouble is, I admit I had expectations, the book has neither prodigious extrapolation on game theory over daily behaviour nor the level of insight and analysis that a Freakonomics gave us. It ends up as a lesson on the Prisoner’s Dilemma and a set of related observations of what we do as a society, with superficial analyses on the causes and the results and no real experiments or research.
Something that could have been done without is the way the author keeps repeating the entire set of explanations for every single case he takes. He could have also cut back a few times on hackneyed statements of how intelligent a class of people we Indians are because 1) we’re good at math and 2) how innovative we are at finding loopholes or bypassing systems. The thing is, math in India is more often than not, not related to intelligence – it’s just a well practised art, like language, cooking or blogging(?) is. The second part also has nothing to do with intelligence and is but an example of the basis of transactional interaction a la Games People Play.
Still a very good book, mind you. Just that my expectations ran away with me, what with the author being one of the better known academicians and all. I’d not be lying if I said I’d not have been disappointed if the book had been marketed as just something with the author’s thoughts and ideas and not with the sort of research & analysis that Freakonomics gave us. A must read for everyone simply because being educated doesn’t necessarily translate to emotional and social intelligence, given our education system.
My Rating: 4/5
Also read: Tragedy of the Commons
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