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About William Poundstone
William Poundstone is the author of two previous Hill and Wang books: Fortune's Formula and Gaming the Vote.
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Called the "prisoner's dilemma," it is a disturbing and mind-bending game where two or more people may betray the common good for individual gain. Introduced shortly after the Soviet Union acquired the atomic bomb, the prisoner's dilemma quickly became a popular allegory of the nuclear arms race. Intellectuals such as von Neumann and Bertrand Russell joined military and political leaders in rallying to the "preventive war" movement, which advocated a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union. Though the Truman administration rejected preventive war the United States entered into an arms race with the Soviets and game theory developed into a controversial tool of public policy—alternately accused of justifying arms races and touted as the only hope of preventing them.
A masterful work of science writing, Prisoner's Dilemma weaves together a biography of the brilliant and tragic von Neumann, a history of pivotal phases of the cold war, and an investigation of game theory's far-reaching influence on public policy today. Most important, Prisoner's Dilemma is the incisive story of a revolutionary idea that has been hailed as a landmark of twentieth-century thought.
This fascinating popular science journey explores Life's relationship to concepts in information theory, explaining the application of natural law to random systems and demonstrating the necessity of limits. Other topics include the paradox of complexity, Maxwell's demon, Big Bang theory, and much more. Written in the 1980s by a bestselling author, the book remains up to date in its treatment of timeless aspects of physics, including the ways in which complex forms and behavior governed by simple laws can appear to arise spontaneously under random conditions.
In 1956, two Bell Labs scientists discovered the scientific formula for getting rich. One was mathematician Claude Shannon, neurotic father of our digital age, whose genius is ranked with Einstein's. The other was John L. Kelly Jr., a Texas-born, gun-toting physicist. Together they applied the science of information theory—the basis of computers and the Internet—to the problem of making as much money as possible, as fast as possible.
Shannon and MIT mathematician Edward O. Thorp took the "Kelly formula" to Las Vegas. It worked. They realized that there was even more money to be made in the stock market. Thorp used the Kelly system with his phenomenally successful hedge fund, Princeton-Newport Partners. Shannon became a successful investor, too, topping even Warren Buffett's rate of return. Fortune's Formula traces how the Kelly formula sparked controversy even as it made fortunes at racetracks, casinos, and trading desks. It reveals the dark side of this alluring scheme, which is founded on exploiting an insider's edge.
Shannon believed it was possible for a smart investor to beat the market—and William Poundstone's Fortune's Formula will convince you that he was right.
Prada stores carry a few obscenely expensive items in order to boost sales for everything else (which look like bargains in comparison). People used to download music for free, then Steve Jobs convinced them to pay. How? By charging 99 cents. That price has a hypnotic effect: the profit margin of the 99 Cents Only store is twice that of Wal-Mart. Why do text messages cost money, while e-mails are free? Why do jars of peanut butter keep getting smaller in order to keep the price the "same"? The answer is simple: prices are a collective hallucination.
In Priceless, the bestselling author William Poundstone reveals the hidden psychology of value. In psychological experiments, people are unable to estimate "fair" prices accurately and are strongly influenced by the unconscious, irrational, and politically incorrect. It hasn't taken long for marketers to apply these findings. "Price consultants" advise retailers on how to convince consumers to pay more for less, and negotiation coaches offer similar advice for businesspeople cutting deals. The new psychology of price dictates the design of price tags, menus, rebates, "sale" ads, cell phone plans, supermarket aisles, real estate offers, wage packages, tort demands, and corporate buyouts. Prices are the most pervasive hidden persuaders of all. Rooted in the emerging field of behavioral decision theory, Priceless should prove indispensable to anyone who negotiates.
How Would You Move Mount Fuji? is an indispensable book for anyone in business. Managers seeking the most talented employees will learn to incorporate puzzle interviews in their search for the top candidates. Job seekers will discover how to tackle even the most brain-busting questions, and gain the advantage that could win the job of a lifetime. And anyone who has ever dreamed of going up against the best minds in business may discover that these puzzles are simply a lot of fun. Why are beer cans tapered on the end, anyway?
In the 18th century, the British minister and mathematician Thomas Bayes devised a theorem that allowed him to assign probabilities to events that had never happened before. It languished in obscurity for centuries until computers came along and made it easy to crunch the numbers. Now, as the foundation of big data, Bayes' formula has become a linchpin of the digital economy.
But here's where things get really interesting: Bayes' theorem can also be used to lay odds on the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence; on whether we live in a Matrix-like counterfeit of reality; on the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum theory being correct; and on the biggest question of all: how long will humanity survive?
The Doomsday Calculation tells how Silicon Valley's profitable formula became a controversial pivot of contemporary thought. Drawing on interviews with thought leaders around the globe, it's the story of a group of intellectual mavericks who are challenging what we thought we knew about our place in the universe. The Doomsday Calculation is compelling reading for anyone interested in our culture and its future.
People are predictable even when they try not to be. William Poundstone demonstrates how to turn this fact to personal advantage in scores of everyday situations, from playing the lottery to buying a home. Rock Breaks Scissors is mind-reading for real life.
Will the next tennis serve go right or left? Will the market go up or down? Most people are poor at that kind of predicting. We are hard-wired to make bum bets on "trends" and "winning streaks" that are illusions. Yet ultimately we're all in the business of anticipating the actions of others. Poundstone reveals how to overcome the errors and improve the accuracy of your own outguessing. Rock Breaks Scissors is a hands-on guide to turning life's odds in your favor.
More people know who Khloe Kardashian is than who Rene Descartes was. Most can't find Delaware on a map, correctly spell the word occurrence, or name the largest ocean on the planet. But how important is it to fill our heads with facts? A few keystrokes can summon almost any information in seconds. Why should we bother learning facts at all?
Bestselling author William Poundstone confronts that timely question in Head in the Cloud. He shows that many areas of knowledge correlate with the quality of our lives -- wealth, health, and happiness -- and even with politics and behavior. Combining Big Data survey techniques with eye-opening anecdotes, Poundstone examines what Americans know (and don't know) on topics ranging from quantum physics to pop culture.
Head in the Cloud asks why we're okay with spelling errors on menus but not on resumes; why Fox News viewers don't know which party controls Congress; why people who know "trivia" make more money than those who don't; how individuals can navigate clickbait and media spin to stay informed about what really matters.
Hilarious, humbling, and wildly entertaining, Head in the Cloud is a must-read for anyone who doesn't know everything.
If you want to work at Google, or any of America's best companies, you need to have an answer to this and other puzzling questions. Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? guides readers through the surprising solutions to dozens of the most challenging interview questions. The book covers the importance of creative thinking, ways to get a leg up on the competition, what your Facebook page says about you, and much more. Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? is a must-read for anyone who wants to succeed in today's job market.
Each year about 28 million Americans begin a search for a new job. Many more live in the age of the permanent job search, their online profiles eternally awaiting a better offer. Job seekers are more mobile and better informed than ever, aspiring to work for employers offering an appealing culture, a robust menu of perks, and opportunities for personal fulfillment and advancement. The result is that millions of applications stream to the handful of companies that regularly top listings of the best companies to work for: Apple, Netflix, Amazon, Alphabet, Disney, SpaceX, Oracle, Pricewaterhouse-Coopers, and others. Tesla has received as many as 200 applications for each open position. How do selective employers choose which people to hire? It’s through interviews asking uniquely demanding questions testing imagination, persistence, and creativity, like:
- Can an astronaut throw a baseball so it hits Earth?
- If you had $2,000, how would you double it in 24 hours?
- How is a milk carton like a plane seat?
- Chicken McNuggets come in boxes of 6, 9, and 20. What’s the largest number of McNuggets that McDonald’s can’t sell you?
- How many dogs in the world have the exact same number of hairs?
Our Electoral System is Fundamentally Flawed, But There's a Simple and Fair Solution
At least five U.S. presidential elections have been won by the second most popular candidate. The reason was a "spoiler"—a minor candidate who takes enough votes away from the most popular candidate to tip the election to someone else. The spoiler effect is more than a glitch. It is a consequence of one of the most surprising intellectual discoveries of the twentieth century: the "impossibility theorem" of Nobel laureate economist Kenneth Arrow. The impossibility theorem asserts that voting is fundamentally unfair—a finding that has not been lost on today's political consultants. Armed with polls, focus groups, and smear campaigns, political strategists are exploiting the mathematical faults of the simple majority vote. In recent election cycles, this has led to such unlikely tactics as Republicans funding ballot drives for Green spoilers and Democrats paying for right-wing candidates' radio ads. Gaming the Vote shows that there is a solution to the spoiler problem that will satisfy both right and left. A system
called range voting, already widely used on the Internet, is the fairest voting method of all, according to computer studies. Despite these findings, range voting remains controversial, and Gaming the Vote assesses the obstacles confronting any attempt to change the American electoral system. The latest of several books by William Poundstone on the theme of how important scientific ideas have affected the real world, Gaming the Vote is a wry exposé of how the political system really works, and a call to action.