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Publishers Weekly
12/02/2013Winning the lottery or being struck by lightning is rare but not impossible, so when it happens repeatedly to the same individual, it seems miraculous. Not so, writes Hand, emeritus professor of mathematics at Imperial College, London (Statistics: A Very Short Introduction), in this ingenious introduction to probability that mixes counterintuitive anecdotes with easily digestible doses of statistics. Thus, through the “law of truly large numbers,” he reveals that, among the billions of events we experience throughout our lives, outrageous ones are bound to occur. Meanwhile, the “law of selection” reveals how probabilities can be made to appear artificially high due to selecting criteria after an event. In other words, it generates miracles from otherwise routine events. And everyone has nightmares ending in disaster: historians have marveled at Lincoln’s pre-assassination dream. Similarly, according to pyramidologists, combining dimensions of the Great Pyramid of Giza produces amazing predictions or coded messages; the pyramid itself is huge and irregular, giving the examiner leeway in choosing the numbers. But it’s the “law of near-enough” that guarantees such spectacular connections. Hand offers much food for thought, and readers willing to handle some simple mathematics will find this a delightful addition to the “why people believe weird things” genre. (Feb.)
Overview
In The Improbability Principle, the renowned statistician David J. Hand unveils his groundbreaking argument that extraordinarily rare events are in fact commonplace. Weaving together fascinating new ways to think about chance, Hand highlights his “law of near enough,” the “look elsewhere effect,” and more, doing for probability what Newton’s laws of motion did for mechanics.
Through humorous and engaging tales of two-time lottery winners, gambling gone wrong, and bizarre coincidences that...