Mlodinowthe author of Feynman's Rainbow, Euclid's Window and, with Stephen Hawking, A Briefer History of Timewrites 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
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.
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
“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