Comparison Shopping for the Unaffordable

1 April 2011

To address a small issue in the history of economic thought, I wanted to consult a copy of the first edition of The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern. I didn't find it reliably quoted on-line, nor did I find it listed in the on-line library catalogue for USD nor in that for UCSD. So I thought that perhaps I'd buy a copy.

I consulted the Used and Out-of-Print listings of AddAll, and quickly concluded that, no, perhaps I won't buy a copy. [detail of screen-capture, showing price of $4959.29] The lowest price that I found was four thousand, nine hundred and fifty-nine dollars, and twenty-nine cents.

I'm not sure who would pay that much, but the next lowest seller wants seven thousand, five hundred and ninety-one dollars, and ninety-three cents.

Another remarkable thing is the range of prices being asked for just that next seller. [detail of screen-capture, showing range of prices] Through and through, the price would be that $7591.93. From that same seller, but through Find-a-Book (listed by AddAll as, the price would be $7614.96. And through AbeBooks (whom I encourage you to avoid in any case), the book would be $7867.54, still from that same seller. There's a $275.61 range here, determined by which intermediate service one uses.

Now, even as I was writing this entry, some of these prices were changing; that's because the seller is based in London, and the exchange rate has been in flux. And that suggests that part of the price range may be explained by different methods being used to calculate a rate of exchange. $275.61 may not seem a trivial sum, but it's only about 3.63% of $7591.93.

Addendum (2019:09/30): This morning I returned to the aforementioned small issue in the history of economic thought, and discovered that in the time since I posted this entry Google Books came to provide what they call a snippet view of a scan of the first edition, which view was enough to answer my question. I wish that I'd had that answer when writing my paper on indecision; but at least I have it as I write my paper synthesizing a theory of decision-making in which preörderings both for preferences and for probabilities may be incomplete.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Responses to Comparison Shopping for the Unaffordable

  • Mykal Banta says:

    Daniel: Go ahead. Treat yourself.

    Alternatively, you might consider something other than the first edition. The “60th Anniversary Edition” in paperback on Amazon fetches under $40.00.

    • Daniel says:

      I've had a copy of a later edition for quite a few years. And a scan of a 1953 copy is available at I want to look at the text of the first edition (1944) to see if they'd made an assertion thereïn which they certainly made in the second (1947).

      But there's just no way that I'd want to spend many hundreds — let alone thousands — of dollars for a copy of this book. It's definitely a classic, but I think that they went down the wrong path, and their presentation hasn't engaged me.

      • Mykal Banta says:

        Ah. You might take a shot at interlibrary loan from your local library, although with that price tag it is most likely cat. as a rare book (which libraries normally don't lend). Sometimes, though, you can luck out. You might also do a request at your local library to discover what library in the country has the book, explaining that you are only requesting copies of particulary pages. Once you get the name of the library in the country that has the book in 1st edition, contact that library directly with your request.

        • Daniel says:

          I'd discounted thoughts of ILL in the face of the market price of the book, but you're right that I might get lucky. (I've seen amazing things available for general loan in public and university libraries.)

          Unfortunately, I don't know how to narrow-down the range of pages at which to look except in the process of examining the text. The relevant remark that I find in the later editions appears in the course of material that was largely new to the second edition. The addition of new material could have caused reörganization many other places.

          I don't perceive a desperate importance to my learning the answer here, though answering what seemed a minor question can sometimes yield major benefits. Right now, it comes down to the precise composition of a foot-note that I'm not even sure should be included at all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.