The game of "What Makes Us Human?"—or what made us human at some point in our long evolutionary history, so the story goes—continues to provide entertainment. Richard Wrangham's Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, published earlier this year, must have gladdened many a kitchen. But whatever else we are—forked radishes, singing Neanderthals, political animals, and so on—we are also predictioneers, all of us, in a way that distinguishes us from our fellow creatures. (Prediction + engineer = predictioneer.) Like chess players, we look ahead, weighing alternative possibilities. By anticipating what might be, we hope—within our modest sphere of influence—to shape what is. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita—let that name roll off your tongue a couple of times—differs from most of us in that he makes his living doing what humans typically do in a less systematic fashion. He invites us into his workshop in The Predictioneer's Game: Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future (Random House).
As the cheesy subtitle suggests (we are brazenly self-interested, you see, and we had better get used to it), parts of Bueno de Mesquita's brilliant mind are still controlled by his high-school self. If you simply can't endure another juvenile takedown of Mother Teresa, you should probably skip this book. But if you persist, you'll get your money's worth and more from these pages. In fact, I predict that if you do read this book, you'll be thinking about it for weeks afterward, reminded of it every time you read the newspaper or the headlines on the Web.
Like John Nash, the Nobel Prize—winning mathematician whose life was the subject of the book A Beautiful Mind and the film ...1