and impact—in other fields. “The book has accomplished everything except what it started out to do—namely, revolutionize economic theory,” Samuelson wrote.2

It’s not that economists hadn’t heard about it. In the years following its publication, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior was widely reviewed in social science and economics journals. In the American Economic Review, for example, Leonid Hurwicz admired the book’s “audacity of vision” and “depth of thought.”3 “The potentialities of von Neumann’s and Morgenstern’s new approach seem tremendous and may, one hopes, lead to revamping, and enriching in realism, a good deal of economic theory,” Hurwicz wrote. “But to a large extent they are only potentialities: results are still largely a matter of future developments.”4 A more enthusiastic assessment appeared in a mathematics journal, where a reviewer wrote that “posterity may regard this book as one of the major scientific achievements of the first half of the twentieth century.”5

The world at large also soon learned about game theory. In 1946, the von Neumann–Morgenstern book rated a front page story in the New York Times; three years later a major piece appeared in Fortune magazine.

It was also clearly appreciated from the beginning that game theory promised applications outside economics—that (as von Neumann and Morgenstern had themselves emphasized) it contained elements of the long-sought theory of human behavior generally. “The techniques applied by the authors in tackling economic problems are of sufficient generality to be valid in political science, sociology, or even military strategy,” Hurwicz pointed out in his review.6 And Herbert Simon, a Nobel laureate-to-be, made similar observations in the American Journal of Sociology. “The student of the Theory of Games … will come away from the volume with a wealth of ideas for application … of the theory into a fundamental tool of analysis for the social sciences.”7

Yet it was also clear from the outset that the original theory of games was severely limited. Von Neumann had mastered two-person zero-sum games, but introducing multiple players led to



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