The End of Many Books

Finite and Infinite Games

A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility

by James Carse

There is a longer story behind why this book blessed me so much (and why I believe it will end up helping me to bless the people around me better. I’d go so far as to call it an answer to some recent prayers, and it certainly is a tool to help me address some weaknesses). I can’t imagine ever forgetting some of the worldview categories found within the book, and also I can’t imagine recommending the book to very many people.

The most compelling categories are in the title of the book. In our lives there are many finite games (contests, projects, interactions, etc.), and all those games fit into one infinite game. Maybe you already don’t like the idea of calling life a game. And actually, the more you don’t like it, the more you should probably read the book. But it is a lot about perspective and what’s important. It’s one thing to think about how to spend your four thousand weeks, it’s another to think about how to serve and spur on other eternal creatures.

I really like the concept of nerve (for life and for leadership) as Friedman defines, but he really doesn’t describe how to develop nerve. I also like the antifragile idea, though again, knowing that it is valuable doesn’t necessarily tell you how to become more of it. Carse’s ideas made me consider a direct correlation between having nerve in a “finite game” because of seeing it as part of the larger, “infinite game.”

Want more courage? Want more (imperturbable by circumstances) joy? Want more patience, and peace that passes understanding? As Christians these are works of the Holy Spirit, and one way the Spirit helps is by illuminating our place in God’s eternal narrative.

Anyway, the book is absolutely brilliant. Or, more accurately, one sentence is brilliant and the next is bologna, the kind that has been left out on the counter for a couple weeks. I actually think some of the attempts to be clever turn into self-contradiction, and some into damnable lies; watch out for lies. Maybe it’s because I don’t understand, or maybe it’s because some parts are not truly understandable (because they are nonsense). Yet with that said, it seems to me that there are some irreducible accuracies in the principle of finite and infinite games that must be reckoned with even if we don’t use those words.

I know, I feel, that I have lived to win too many finite games. I know that this book helped me think about winning/conquering (see Revelation 12:11) with my eternal life differently, in such a way that makes me want to be more sacrificially playful for my people.

Should you read this book? Again, probably not. Instead, spend more time getting wisdom from Solomon about life beyond the sun in Ecclesiastes, and just follow the instructions in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.

3 of 5 stars