The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

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"In this book, Leonard Mlodinow shows us how randomness, chance, and probability reveal a tremendous amount about our daily lives, and how we misunderstand the significance of everything from a casual conversation to a major financial setback. As a result, successes and failures in life are often attributed to clear and obvious causes, when in actuality they are more profoundly influenced by chance." The rise and fall of your favorite movie star or the most reviled CEO - in fact, all our destinies - reflects chance as much as planning and innate abilities. Even the legendary Roger Maris, who beat Babe Ruth's single season home run record, was in all likelihood not great but just lucky. And it might be shocking to realize that you are twice as likely to be killed in a car accident on your way to buying a lottery ticket than you are to win the lottery.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
John Grisham, Theodor Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss), and J. K. Rowling share two things. They are all bestselling authors and they were all first greeted by massive rejection. In fact, publishers turned down the original manuscripts submitted by the three authors a total of 62 times. Obviously, the whims and vicissitudes of the marketplace repeatedly battered down the works of these talented, mega-popular writers and, according to physicist Leonard Mlodinow, they're not alone. In The Drunkard's Walk, the coauthor of Stephen Hawkings's A Briefer History of Time describes the underappreciated significance of randomness, chaos, and probability in our daily lives. His examples are wide ranging: from political polls and sports events to financial markets and film stardom.
George Johnson
Mlodinow—the author of Feynman's Rainbow, Euclid's Window and, with Stephen Hawking, A Briefer History of Time—writes in a breezy style, interspersing probabilistic mind-benders with portraits of theorists like Jakob Bernoulli, Blaise Pascal, Carl Friedrich Gauss, Pierre-Simon de Laplace and Thomas Bayes. The result is a readable crash course in randomness and statistics that includes the clearest explanation I've encountered of the Monty Hall problem (named for the M.C. of the old TV game show "Let's Make a Deal").
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

A "drunkard's walk" is a type of random statistical distribution with important applications in scientific studies ranging from biology to astronomy. Mlodinow, a visiting lecturer at Caltech and coauthor with Stephen Hawking of A Briefer History of Time, leads readers on a walk through the hills and valleys of randomness and how it directs our lives more than we realize. Mlodinow introduces important historical figures such as Bernoulli, Laplace and Pascal, emphasizing their ideas rather than their tumultuous private lives. Mlodinow defines such tricky concepts as regression to the mean and the law of large numbers, which should help readers as they navigate the daily deluge of election polls and new studies on how to live to 100. The author also carefully avoids veering off into the terra incognita of chaos theory aside from a brief mention of the famous "butterfly effect," although he might have spent a little more time on the equally famous n-body problem that led to chaos theory. Books on randomness and statistics line library shelves, but Mlodinow will help readers sort out Mark Twain's "damn lies" from meaningful statistics and the choices we face every day. (May 13)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Forget about planning for the future: Chaos is king, the random reigns and no system can beat the house odds. So one might conclude from onetime Caltech physicist Mlodinow's spry look at the rising field-and, it seems, publishing trend-of what might be called randomness studies. As he writes, affectingly, his mother, who survived the Holocaust, subscribed to the forget-planning school after her careful sister was consigned to death. Her experience, he writes, "has taught me to appreciate the absence of bad luck, the absence of events that might have brought us down, and the absence of the disease, war, famine, and accident that have not-or have not yet-befallen us." Small comforts, perhaps, but the case studies he assembles point strongly to the essential vanity of human wishes, whether they be efforts to beat the odds at Vegas or to predict the chartbusting potential of a screenplay. On the second note, Mlodinow (Feynman's Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and Life, 2003, etc.), who knows his Hollywood, quotes a studio executive who once remarked, "If I had said yes to all the projects I turned down, and no to all the other ones I took, it would have worked out about the same." Thus randomness, which plays havoc with probability and makes it devilishly hard for ordinary mortals to discern trends and, moreover, exceptions to trends. Mixing hard science with an easygoing approach that makes liberal but not annoying use of pop-culture references, Mlodinow ventures onto conceptually strange ground: the law of the sample space, for instance, which is supposed to apply "only to outcomes that are equally probable" but manages to find, yes, exceptions. He delights in finding the limits ofprobability, as with the elderly French woman who mortgaged her desirable apartment to a young lawyer who was to take it over after her death, then proceeded to outlive him-indeed, to attain the age of 122, skewing all the statistics. A science geek's delight, and useful reading for the inveterate gambler of the house. Agent: Susan Ginsburg/Writers House
From the Publisher
“Mlodinow writes in a breezy style, interspersing probabilistic mind-benders with portraits of theorists.... The result is a readable crash course in randomness.”—The New York Times Book Review“A wonderfully readable guide to how the mathematical laws of randomness affect our lives.”—Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time"[Mlodinow] thinks in equations but explains in anecdote, simile, and occasional bursts of neon. . . . The results are mind-bending."—Fortune"Even if you begin The Drunkard's Walk as a skeptic, by the time you reach the final pages, you will gain an understanding-if not acceptance-of the intuitively improbable ways that probability biases the outcomes of life's uncertainties."—Barron's“Delightfully entertaining.”—Scientific American “A magnificent exploration of the role that chance plays in our lives. The probability is high that you will be entertained and enlightened by this intelligent charmer.” —Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness“Mlodinow is the perfect guy to reveal the ways unrelated elements can relate and connect.”—The Miami Herald“A primer on the science of probability.”—The Washington Post Book World“Challenges our intuitions about probability and explores how, by understanding randomness, we can better grasp our world.” —Seed Magazine“Mlodinow has an intimate perspective on randomness.”—The Austin Chronicle
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375424045
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/13/2008
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Leonard Mlodinow received his doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, was an Alexander von Humboldt fellow at the Max Planck Institute, and now teaches about randomness to future scientists at Caltech. Along the way he also wrote for the television series MacGyver and Star Trek: The Next Generation. His previous books include Euclid's Window: The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace, Feynman's Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life, and, with Stephen Hawking, A Briefer History of Time. He lives in South Pasadena, California.

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Read an Excerpt

The Drunkard's Walk

How Randomness Rules Our Lives

By Leonard Mlodinow Pantheon

Copyright © 2008 Leonard Mlodinow
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780375424045

Peering through the Eyepiece of Randomness  

I remember, as a teenager, watching the yellow flame of the Sabbath candles dancing randomly above the white paraffin cylinders that fueled them. I was too young to think candlelight romantic, but still I found it magical-because of the flickering images created by the fire. They shifted and morphed, grew and waned, all without apparent cause or plan. Surely, I believed, there must be rhyme and reason underlying the flame, some pattern that scientists could predict and explain with their mathematical equations. "Life isn't like that," my father told me. "Sometimes things happen that cannot be foreseen." He told me of the time when, in Buchenwald, the Nazi concentration camp in which he was imprisoned and starving, he stole a loaf of bread from the bakery. The baker had the Gestapo gather everyone who might have committed the crime and line the suspects up. "Who stole the bread?" the baker asked. When no one answered, he told the guards to shoot the suspects one by one until either they were all dead or someone confessed. My father stepped forward to spare the others. He did not try to paint himself in a heroic light but told me that he did it because he expected to be shot either way. Instead of having him killed, though, thebaker gave my father a plum job, as his assistant. "A chance event," my father said. "It had nothing to do with you, but had it happened differently, you would never have been born." It struck me then that I have Hitler to thank for my existence, for the Germans had killed my father's wife and two young children, erasing his prior life. And so were it not for the war, my father would never have emigrated to New York, never have met my mother, also a refugee, and never have produced me and my two brothers.  

My father rarely spoke of the war. I didn't realize it then, but years later it dawned on me that whenever he shared his ordeals, it was not so much because he wanted me to know of his experiences but rather because he wanted to impart a larger lesson about life. War is an extreme circumstance, but the role of chance in our lives is not predicated on extremes. The outline of our lives, like the candle's flame, is continuously coaxed in new directions by a variety of random events that, along with our responses to them, determine our fate. As a result, life is both hard to predict and hard to interpret. Just as, looking at a Rorschach blot, you might see Madonna and I, a duck-billed platypus, the data we encounter in business, law, medicine, sports, the media, or your child's third-grade report card can be read in many ways. Yet interpreting the role of chance in an event is not like intepreting a Rorschach blot; there are right ways and wrong ways to do it.  

We often employ intuitive processes when we make assessments and choices in uncertain situations. Those processes no doubt carried an evolutionary advantage when we had to decide whether a saber-toothed tiger was smiling because it was fat and happy or because it was famished and saw us as its next meal. But the modern world has a different balance, and today those intuitive processes come with drawbacks. When we use our habitual ways of thinking to deal with today's tigers, we can be led to decisions that are less than optimal or even incongruous. That conclusion comes as no surprise to those who study how the brain processes uncertainty: many studies point to a close connection between the parts of our brain that make assessments of chance situations and those that handle the human characteristic that is often considered our prime source of irrationality-our emotions. Functional magnetic resonance imaging, for example, shows that risk and reward are assessed by parts of the dopaminergic system, a brain-reward circuit important for motivational and emotional processes. The images show, too, that the amygdala, which is also linked to our emotional state, especially fear, is activated when we make decisions couched in uncertainty.  

The mechanisms by which people analyze situations involving chance are an intricate product of evolutionary factors, brain structure, personal experience, knowledge, and emotion. In fact, the human response to uncertainty is so complex that sometimes different structures within the brain come to different conclusions and apparently fight it out to determine which one will dominate. For example, if your face swells to five times its normal size three out of every four times you eat shrimp, the "logical" left hemisphere of your brain will attempt to find a pattern. The "intuitive" right hemisphere of your brain, on the other hand, will simply say "avoid shrimp." At least that's what researchers found in less painful experimental setups. The game is called probability guessing. In lieu of toying with shrimp and histamine, subjects are shown a series of cards or lights, which can have two colors, say green and red. Things are arranged so that the colors will appear with different probabilities but otherwise without a pattern. For example, red might appear twice as often as green in a sequence like red-red-green-red-green-red-red-green-green-red-red-red, and so on. The task of the subject, after watching for a while, is to predict whether each new member of the sequence will be red or green.  

The game has two basic strategies. One is to always guess the color that you notice occurs more frequently. That is the route favored by rats and other nonhuman animals. If you employ this strategy, you are guaranteed a certain degree of success but you are also conceding that you will do no better. For instance, if green shows up 75 percent of the time and you decide to always guess green, you will be correct 75 percent of the time. The other strategy is to "match" your proportion of green and red guesses to the proportion of green and red you observed in the past. If the greens and reds appear in a pattern and you can figure out the pattern, this strategy enables you to guess right every time. But if the colors appear at random, you would be better off sticking with the first strategy. In the case where green randomly appears 75 percent of the time, the second strategy will lead to the correct guess only about 6 times in 10.  

Humans usually try to guess the pattern, and in the process we allow ourselves to be outperformed by a rat. But there are people with certain types of post-surgical brain impairment-called a split brain-that precludes the right and left hemispheres of the brain from communicating with each other. If the probability experiment is performed on these patients such that they see the colored light or card with only their left eye and employ only their left hand to signal their predictions, it amounts to an experiment on the right side of the brain. But if the experiment is performed so as to involve only their right eye and right hand, it is an experiment on the left brain. When researchers performed those experiments, they found that-in the same patients-the right hemisphere always chose to guess the more frequent color and the left hemisphere always tried to guess the pattern.  

Making wise assessments and choices in the face of uncertainty is a rare skill. But like any skill, it can be improved with experience. In the pages that follow, I will examine the role of chance in the world around us, the ideas that have been developed over the centuries to help us understand that role, and the factors that often lead us astray. The British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell wrote,  

We all start from "naive realism," i.e., the doctrine that things are what they seem. We think that grass is green, that stones are hard, and that snow is cold. But physics assures us that the greenness of grass, the hardness of stones, and the coldness of snow are not the greenness of grass, the hardness of stones, and the coldness of snow that we know in our own experience, but something very different. In what follows we will peer at life through the eyepiece of randomness and see that many of the events of our lives, too, are not quite what they seem but rather something very different.  

In 2002 the Nobel committee awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics to a scientist named Daniel Kahneman. Economists do all sorts of things these days-they explain why teachers are paid so little, why football teams are worth so much, and why bodily functions help set a limit on the size of hog farms (a hog excretes three to five times as much as a human, so a farm with thousands of hogs on it often produces more waste than the neighboring cities). Despite all the great research generated by economists, the 2002 Nobel Prize was notable because Kahneman is not an economist. He is a psychologist, and for decades, with the late Amos Tversky, Kahneman studied and clarified the kinds of misperceptions of randomness that fuel many of the common fallacies I will talk about in this book.  

The greatest challenge in understanding the role of randomness in life is that although the basic principles of randomness arise from everyday logic, many of the consequences that follow from those principles prove counterintuitive. Kahneman and Tversky's studies were themselves spurred by a random event. In the mid-1960s, Kahneman, then a junior psychology professor at Hebrew University, agreed to perform a rather unexciting chore: lecturing to a group of Israeli air force flight instructors on the conventional wisdom of behavior modification and its application to the psychology of flight training. Kahneman drove home the point that rewarding positive behavior works but punishing mistakes does not. One of his students interrupted, voicing an opinion that would lead Kahneman to an epiphany and guide his research for decades.  

"I've often praised people warmly for beautifully executed maneuvers, and the next time they always do worse," the flight instructor said. "And I've screamed at people for badly executed maneuvers, and by and large the next time they improve. Don't tell me that reward works and punishment doesn't work. My experience contradicts it." The other flight instructors agreed. To Kahneman the flight instructors' experiences rang true. On the other hand, Kahneman believed in the animal experiments that demonstrated that reward works better than punishment. He ruminated on this apparent paradox. And then it struck him: the screaming preceded the improvement, but contrary to appearances it did not cause it.  

How can that be? The answer lies in a phenomenon called regression toward the mean. That is, in any series of random events an extraordinary event is most likely to be followed, due purely to chance, by a more ordinary one. Here is how it works: The student pilots all had a certain personal ability to fly fighter planes. Raising their skill level involved many factors and required extensive practice, so although their skill was slowly improving through flight training, the change wouldn't be noticeable from one maneuver to the next. Any especially good or especially poor performance was thus mostly a matter of luck. So if a pilot made an exceptionally good landing-one far above his normal level of performance-then the odds would be good that he would perform closer to his norm-that is, worse-the next day. And if his instructor had praised him, it would appear that the praise had done no good. But if a pilot made an exceptionally bad landing-running the plane off the end of the runway and into the vat of corn chowder in the base cafeteria-then the odds would be good that the next day he would perform closer to his norm-that is, better. And if his instructor had a habit of screaming "you clumsy ape" when a student performed poorly, it would appear that his criticism did some good. In this way an apparent pattern would emerge: student performs well, praise does no good; student performs poorly, instructor compares student to lower primate at high volume, student improves. The instructors in Kahneman's class had concluded from such experiences that their screaming was a powerful educational tool. In reality it made no difference at all.  

This error in intuition spurred Kahneman's thinking. He wondered, are such misconceptions universal? Do we, like the flight instructors, believe that harsh criticism improves our children's behavior or our employees' performance? Do we make other misjudgments when faced with uncertainty? Kahneman knew that human beings, by necessity, employ certain strategies to reduce the complexity of tasks of judgment and that intuition about probabilities plays an important part in that process. Will you feel sick after eating that luscious-looking seviche tostada from the street vendor? You don't consciously recall all the comparable food stands you've patronized, count the number of times you've spent the following night guzzling Pepto-Bismol, and come up with a numerical estimate. You let your intuition do the work. But research in the 1950s and early '60s indicated that people's intuition about randomness fails them in such situations. How widespread, Kahneman wondered, was this misunderstanding of uncertainty? And what are its implications for human decision making? A few years passed, and Kahneman invited a fellow junior professor, Amos Tversky, to give a guest lecture at one of his seminars. Later, at lunch, Kahneman mentioned his developing ideas to Tversky. Over the next thirty years, Tversky and Kahneman found that even among sophisticated subjects, when it came to random processes-whether in military or sports situations, business quandaries, or medical questions-people's beliefs and intuition very often let them down.  

Suppose four publishers have rejected the manuscript for your thriller about love, war, and global warming. Your intuition and the bad feeling in the pit of your stomach might say that the rejections by all those publishing experts mean your manuscript is no good. But is your intuition correct? Is your novel unsellable? We all know from experience that if several tosses of a coin come up heads, it doesn't mean we are tossing a two-headed coin. Could it be that publishing success is so unpredictable that even if our novel is destined for the best-seller list, numerous publishers could miss the point and send those letters that say thanks but no thanks? One book in the 1950s was rejected by publishers, who responded with such comments as "very dull," "a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions," and "even if the work had come to light five years ago, when the subject [World War II] was timely, I don't see that there would have been a chance for it." That book, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, has sold 30 million copies, making it one of the best-selling books in history. Rejection letters were also sent to Sylvia Plath because "there certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice," to George Orwell for Animal Farm because "it is impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.," and to Isaac Bashevis Singer because "it's Poland and the rich Jews again." Before he hit it big, Tony Hillerman's agent dumped him, advising that he should "get rid of all that Indian stuff."  


Excerpted from The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow Copyright © 2008 by Leonard Mlodinow. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Peering through the Eyepiece of Randomness: The hidden role of chance...when human beings can be outperformed by a rat 3

Ch. 2 The Laws of Truths and Half-Truths: The basic principles of probability and how they are abused...why a good story is often less likely to be true than a flimsy explanation 21

Ch. 3 Finding Your Way through a Space of Possibilities: A framework for thinking about random situations...from a gambler in plague-ridden Italy to Let's Make a Deal 41

Ch. 4 Tracking the Pathways to Success: How to count the number of ways in which events can happen, and why it matters...the mathematical meaning of expectation 60

Ch. 5 The Dueling Laws of Large and Small Numbers: The extent to which probabilities are reflected in the results we observe...Zeno's paradox, the concept of limits, and beating the casino at roulette 81

Ch. 6 False Positives and Positive Fallacies: How to adjust expectations in light of past events or new knowledge...mistakes in conditional probability from medical screening to the O. J. Simpson trial and the prosecutor's fallacy 104

Ch. 7 Measurement and the Law of Errors: The meaning and lack of meaning in measurements...the bell curve and wine ratings, political polls, grades, and the position of planets 124

Ch. 8 The Order in Chaos: How large numbers can wash out the disorder of randomness...or why 200,000,000 drivers form a creature of habit 146

Ch. 9 Illusions of Patterns and Patterns of Illusion: Why we are often fooled by the regularities in chance events...can a million consecutive zeroes or the success of Wall Street gurus be random? 169

Ch. 10 The Drunkard's Walk: Why chance is a morefundamental conception than causality...Bruce Willis, Bill Gates, and the normal accident theory of life 192

Acknowledgments 221

Notes 223

Index 239

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Customer Reviews

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( 69 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 70 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 18, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Randomness Unriddled for Everyone

    Leonard Mlodinow wrote an easy to read guide to influences of chance in our everyday life and shows how to benefit and how to evade unnecessary misfortunes.<BR/>The author explains all the necessary theoretical groundwork of stochastics and statistics 101 in a simple manner without employing any formulas. The latter makes the book accessible to anyone who is not too inclined towards mathematics, but slows reading for those knowledgeable in the field. Furthermore, he introduces the propositions in their historical context, thereby giving a catchy overview of the people and places involved.<BR/>The examples he has picked are from a wide range of everyday situations, e.g., baseball, box-office performance, cancer in the vicinity of nuclear power plants, casino gambling, crime scenes, executive performance, gender guessing of twins, lotteries, medical diagnoses, Pearl Harbor, wine tastings, etc. These vivid illustrations raise the awareness of the random impacts in the reader¿s surroundings - influences that Mlodinow shows are generally under- or overestimated beacuse the human intuition is incapable of truly conceiving randomness.<BR/>After reading this book you will have learnt three things: <BR/>1. Theory to do all sorts of calculations of randomness<BR/>2. Historical and biographical knowledge of great mathematicians<BR/>3. How randomness rules your life and what you can do to succeed anyway<BR/>The only downside of the book trying to convey all those three messages is that you should not expect 220 pages filled with ¿How Randomness Rules Our Lives¿. (Therefore, it is a four-star book for me. However, once you know this - before the purchase - it is a five star book. That¿s how expectations influence or perceptions; see around p. 133 in the book.)<BR/>The last 16 pages are dedicated references to other works that allow the interested reader to dig deep into the scientific realm of the topic. <BR/><BR/>Enjoy the book!<BR/>Jan Dominik Gunkel

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 13, 2009

    too complicated

    this book on statistics is just too complicated for the aver. reader.
    any book on stats should be generous with many charts or graphics.
    very hard to read, even though i'm a seasoned statistician i find it hard to follow. i expected a lot more.
    only good for maybe some professionals but not just general public.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 24, 2009

    A well written witty book for everyday thinking and any profession!

    Just finished this book and learned alot of interesting new ideas regarding the role of probability/chance in our lives. Found it fascinating as a physician, follower of my IRA investments, and as a mom. Ideas are laid out in a concise organized fashion. They are illustrated by a combination of anecdotes and more mathematical explanations which are pretty painless. It does not set out to be a comprehensive textbook on the idea of randomness, but to introduce and explain it to lay people such as myself.

    If you've enjoyed any of Gladwell Malcolm's or Simon Singh's books, you should definitely try this one!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Significant Study for Business Executives

    I have spent a great portion of my life observing the success (and sometimes failure) of using SPC in the workplace. This realm has been used and abused under many names such as TQM, Continuous Improvement, etc. What has always escaped me was the ability to use statistics to predict a supervisor or manager's success. Indeed, it may well be the most frustrating aspect of my career in human resources and production management. <BR/><BR/>Leonard Mlodinow provides great insight into the relationship between talent and success. While I have always believed in a person being in the right place at the right time, this book reinforces and bolsters the evidence that chance plays a greater role than what we suspect. <BR/><BR/>The organization I currently work for is in the throes of bankruptcy. In the last few weeks, a very intelligent, loyal, and competent CEO resigned (?) and has been replaced by another intelligent and competent CEO. He was `swamped by the effect of the uncontrollable elements of the system' as written in the book. As pointed out on page 188, the board made a change in management due to an `illusion' of control over chance events. To actually see it and then to read an exact prediction in a book tells me we should heed the work of this author. He knows of which he writes. <BR/><BR/>I am really interested in his `unequal influence' section and plan to do more experimental validation of this phenomenon in the near future. <BR/><BR/>This book is relevant, compelling, authoritative and well-researched. I would recommend it to anyone in the field of business. <BR/><BR/>I hope you find this review helpful. <BR/><BR/>Michael L. Gooch, SPHR - Author of Wingtips with Spurs Cowboy Wisdom for Today's Business Leaders.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 4, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    A good heuristic introduction to the concepts of probability

    Mlodinow's book uses historical narrative to introduce the basic concepts of probability. The book is light on technical mathematics, focusing rather on the abstract concepts applied to simple, real life problems (i.e., the monty hall problem). The concepts are presented with great clarity, and the book is a relatively easy, non-technical read. I can't imagine that there is a better introduction for a newcomer to probability theory.<BR/><BR/>That said, anyone with a solid familiarity with probability theory may be disappointed by its lack of depth. The book should be considered in the same vein as Innumeracy, illustrating how our common sense deceives us when it comes to simple matters of probability. If you are looking for a book that deals with the complexities of probability in our lives, I would not recommend this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2014

    Fascinating fun

    Fascinating, fun review of history, mathematics, human nature, and how things come together in life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2012

    Fun fi Fun and interesting

    When i lesrned these subjects in school we learned the analytical techniques. The fun of this book is the everyday applications and the charming anecdotes. Also the broad overview and comparison of probability and statistics and the historical development is a great component of the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2012

    good historical review

    I really enjoyed Feynman's Rainbow by the same author, and this book is good too. It does a good review of the history of the study of randomness and has interesting little stories related to all the protagonists.

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  • Posted December 27, 2010

    A Wonderful Guide to Randomness

    A wonderful mathematical approach to randomness. Clearly worded and easy to follow. For those who have taken a college course in statistics, you will see practical applications being applied here. Great Book overall, I would highly recommend it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2010


    interesting history of the study of randomness.

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  • Posted November 25, 2009

    Good Book

    Fantastic read for anyone out there that likes numbers, randomness, a brief history of probabilistic thinking, and the like - and wants a better understanding on how presentation impacts our decisions. Very easy to read, with illustrative examples that explain some commmon errors in reasoning associated with how numbers are used in arguments. Mlodinow writes in a conversational tone that makes it easy to pick up important points without being overwhelmed by math - in fact, all you need is common sense and a logigical thought process! Excellent book!

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  • Posted October 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Random or directed? Much of reality works by chance, we often can't accept that but here is why it is very important to embrace chance.

    This book is an extraordinary account of the development and meaning of randomness and its role in our lives. The concept of randomness is explored in this insightful and thought-provoking account in ways that show that 1) events really do happen by undirected chance, and that 2) we often cannot tell the difference between chance and our own desires for determinism.
    One of the most compelling parts for me was the description of the "Monte Hall Problem". This refers to the "Let's Make a Deal" TV show of the 60s and 70s and the unexpected and controversial probability calculations that resulted from one of the games on that show. Judging from what Mlodinow says, even some mathematicians might be advised to read about whether or not one should switch a choice from the proverbial door #1 to the choice proffered by the game show host.
    Another fascinating tale related by the author was his very personal and potentially terrifying encounter with the predictions of Bayes on false positives. Mlodinow's description of Bayesian theory and its consequences should be required reading for anyone who thinks that 'only' 1% false positives means that you hardly ever go wrong.
    You don't need a lot of math to enjoy and learn from this book and neither does the author talk down to anyone. What you will get is a sense of unease when you hear someone predict which mutual funds to buy or why a movie mogul got sacked. That sense of unease is good because it can lead to questioning things in a deeper sense of the word.

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  • Posted October 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A nice walk through Probability and Statistics

    Actually makes the topics clear, relevant and understandable. Liked the history and development of the study of statistics and probability Mlodinow presented.
    i bought this as a break from other subjects and was surprised at how much I enjoyed the read. Anything that makes math subjects interesting and accessible is great.

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  • Posted September 20, 2009

    If everything is random, how can we get a grip on anything?

    The answer is, of course, we can't.

    This book is full of history, examples, and statistics--all leading to the same conclusion, but we keep on reading hoping that some shred of control will be given us. The best thing we get is a view of reality:"In our lives . . . we can see through the microscope of close scrutiny that many major events would have turned out differently were it not for the random confluence of minor factors, people we've met by chance, job opportunities that randomly came our way." It's wisdom to see this, but we still reach beyond it for an abstraction:"The Secret" or "the will of God."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2009

    Interesting read

    Not one to be read in one sitting, kind of the type that you read a chapter at a time. Uses interesting real examples to explain points. Well-researched.

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  • Posted July 25, 2009

    Randomness Rules Us

    This book is a definite read,not boring like most statistics books. It is funny and informative, plus you don't need a PhD in mathematics to understand it. He goes through the history of statistics from the birth of the age of reason to now. It gives a very good understanding to a lay person such as myself on how this was figured out. And how randomness can lead to evolution begetting more complex systems and why the meterologist can only predict at most three days into the future. Why the stock market is strictly random process and the so called gurus that predict stocks are just as likely and usually are wrong. So read this book if you want to understand how randomness rules us.

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  • Posted April 6, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    An interesting read for a rainy day

    Great topic and concept but sometimes can be a little excessive with historical backgrounds of each chapter. Overall a good read though.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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