A stimulating application of game theory to law, equally valuable for social scientists and those interested in legal theory.



In the tradition of the Chicago School of law and economics, Posner (Law/Univ. of Chicago) offers an insightful study of the relationship between legal regulation and social norms.

Game theory has transformed the study of market behavior, but it has had little impact as yet on legal theory. Posner starts by observing that most forms of collective behavior occur independently of legal rules: indeed, without a system of law, people would still engage in cooperative and selfish behaviors. Posner uses game theory and empirical studies to establish a model of nonlegal collective behavior, arguing that much social interaction consists of a kind of “signaling game,” in which people convey their willingness to conform to social norms and demonstrate their desirability as potential partners in social enterprises. According to Posner, people will conform to such norms (and may even suppress individual preferences or cheating behavior) as rational decisions made in order to receive long-term benefits (economic and otherwise), independent of any consideration of legal incentives. With mixed success, the author then examines the usefulness of this model for an understanding of particular issues in contracts and commercial law, torts, criminal law, and politics. For instance, Posner attempts to use the signaling model to explain why courts enforce commercial contracts but not gratuitous promises (he speculates, with no historical evidence, that this doctrine developed when common law courts deferred to “nonlegal mechanisms” on promise enforcement) and why shaming punishments don’t work (they may become badges of merit in communities that mistrust the government). Finally, Posner critically examines the relationship between social norms and policymaking (especially government attempts to change social norms). Posner argues that law can often be understood as an attempt to use social norms, and he discerns a gradual trend toward displacement of nonlegal by legal regulation (which, he contends, “should not be deplored, as is currently fashionable, but celebrated”).

A stimulating application of game theory to law, equally valuable for social scientists and those interested in legal theory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-674-00156-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

Did you like this book?


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet