William Poundstone’s latest

It’s called Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair. I started reading it this morning, and as usual, Poundstone does a great job of explaining difficult concepts while at the same time keeping things lively with a stream of surprising anecdotes.

The prologue describes how Louisiana’s open primary system allowed former Klan Wizard David Duke to become the Republican candidate for governor in 1991, which in turn led to the victory of Democrat Edwin “the lizard” Edwards, who not entirely coincidentally was the architect of the open primary system.

Then in the first chapter, by way of an introduction to the subject of game theory, Poundstone offers this story about logician Kurt Gödel:

[Godel] had no interest in politics. He showed no apparent alarm when Hitler became chancellor of Germany. (Gödel closed a 1936 letter with a cordial “Heil Hitler.”) He was equally unconcerned when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938. Then, in August 1939, war began. Things quickly got worse in Gödel’s Vienna. In November, Gödel was attacked by a gang of Nazi youths. He was not Jewish, but people thought he looked Jewish, or scholarly, or cosmopolitan. Gödel was in the company of his less scholarly girlfriend, Adele Porkert, who worked in a disreputable nightclub. She fought off the Nazis with her umbrella.

After Gödel flees to the U.S., he becomes alarmed by his discovery of a “logical contradiction” in the Constitution. Gödel’s pals Albert Einstein and Oskar Morgenstern are worried that he will start ranting about this during his citizenship exam, but fortunately, the judge in charge of the test is a friend of Einstein’s.

Good stuff, and worth checking out if you need a political fix while waiting for the Obama-McCain bout to heat up. Or if, like Gödel, you’d rather avoid politics, try Poundstone’s last book, Fortune’s Formula.