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The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives Hardcover – 29 May 2008

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (29 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713999225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713999228
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 3 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 558,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"A wonderfully readable guide to how the mathematical laws of randomness affect our lives."--Stephen Hawking, author of" A Brief History of Time" ""The Drunkard's Walk "is a magnificent exploration of the role that chance plays in our lives. Often historical, occasionally hysterical, and consistently smart and funny, this book challenges everything we think we know about how the world works. The probability is high that you will be entertained and enlightened by this intelligent charmer."--Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology, Harvard University, and author of "Stumbling on Happiness ""Fast, chatty, very readable, and a fine introduction to ideas that everyone should know." --David Berlinski, author of "A Tour of the Calculus" "A primer on the science of probability."-"The Washington Post Book World" "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 jaunty read worthy of any beach or airplane. . . . Mlodinow has an intimate perspective on randomness. . . . He draws direct links from the works of history's greatest minds to the deeds of today's not-so-great ones, explaining phenomena like the prosecutor's fallacy (which helped acquit O.J. Simpson) and the iPod shuffle function (eventually programmed not to be truly random, lest songs hit upon eerie playing streaks)."-"The Austin Chronicle" "Please read "The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives" by Leonard Mlodinow, a history, explanation, and exaltation of probability theory. . . . Mlodinow . . . thinks in equations but explains in anecdote, simile, and occasional bursts of neon. . . .The results are mind-bending."-"Fortune " "Challenges our intuitions about probability and explores how, by understanding randomness, we can better grasp our world."-"Seed Magazine" "[Mlodinow is] the perfect guy to revea


'Delightful ... Our lives may be shaped by chance, but they are enriched by awareness - just the sort of awareness that this fascinating book will give you' --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Antonis Michailidis on 30 July 2010
Format: Paperback
As an unlikely (but still possible) opening event to my contact with this book, I reveived it through the mail from Amazon without having ordered it and with no invoice. Having read it I was suitably impressed with it's historical accuracy, depth, and interesting viewpoint. Indeed, randomess is an aspect of scientific theory that experimentation's biggest challenge is dialing out. We have always been taught to try and avoid it as vehemently as possible in order to deepen the trust we bear on our randomness-free research results. Mlodinow's whole viewpoint is one of understanding randomness and tailoring our understanding to embrace it rather than avoid it, and as such it offers an enriched and amusing new perspective on the application of modern scientific method, and life in general.

As a beautiful side-effect of reading this book, you'll:

1) Stop trusting or believing bankers, hi-risk investors, market analysts or people who predict anything related to systems which aren't rigidly understood (financial markets, success of the film industry, fashion).

2) Realize there is so little correlation between which team is superior and which team wins the game that you'll practically lose interest in any kind of sporting contest which involves randomness-prone factors (namely people).

3) Learn to question the potential of false-positives whenever confronted by a member of the medical profession concerning any bad news you're given, particualrly when dealing with extreme cases of numerical disparity. This is not a criticsm towards doctors; more a statement that their understnding of statistics is lacking.
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67 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Sphex on 8 Oct. 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was surprised to learn that the Greeks did not have a theory of probability. Their belief "that the future unfolded according to the will of the gods" and their taste for "absolute truth" did not encourage the study of chance. Where pristine philosophy failed, the more grubby pastime of gambling succeeded in motivating probability theory. And, in true statistical style, it only took a handful of gamblers out of a large enough sample to get things going.

Today we might as well be Greeks for all that we understand or even recognize uncertainty. Even if we do not share the view that everything happens for a reason, it is still easy to ignore the role chance plays in our lives. We humans, with our big brains and clever language and propensity for story telling, are well equipped for this kind of failure. When it comes to recognizing randomness, we can be "outperformed by a rat". If this fact piques your curiosity or lowers your self-esteem, read on, and this superb book should satisfy one and restore the other. It is anything but a drunkard's walk through an intellectual maze. Mathematics, the social sciences, psychology, economics, brain studies, all contribute to the modern understanding of this fascinating area. By the end, several important ideas should have become straightened out into the intellectual equivalent of broad, tree-lined avenues, and you might agree with a quotation from Max Born: "Chance is a more fundamental conception than causality."

First off, do not panic. Even a Harvard professor specializing in probability and statistics admits we're not cut out for this kind of thinking - which makes Mlodinow's achievement in writing an entertaining book from which you can actually learn something all the more remarkable.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By N. Brooke on 28 Feb. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this on a whim based on an Amazon-recommendation, and I wasn't disappointed. Mlodinow gives a very apporachable introduction to the science of randomness, and pitches the subject matter at the right level.

Unlike other books that have dated badly, the examples that the author uses to illustrate his points are recent and relevant, and communicated with a light-hearted sense of humour that turns a dry subject matter into something surprisingly engaging. I got through it quite happily in a couple of sittings.

It loses a star as occasionally Mlodinow does go into a little too much detail on the history of probability and the personal lives of the mathematicians on whose theories this book is based. I didn't think this was necessary (or particularly interesting) and would have liked to have seen this space filled instead with wider content. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the book is abosrbing and so is well worth picking up.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 14 Aug. 2008
Format: Hardcover
Have you ever flipped a coin 100 times to see the sequence of heads and tails that comes up? If you have, you know that there can be long streaks of heads and tails. Random results that end up 50-50 don't look that way in the short term.

Human perception is such that we like to find patterns where none exist. I remember the CEO of a company I worked for would draw a trend line through one data point with great authority, totally unaware of what he was doing.

More often, we judge by samples of behavior and time that are too short to be representative. Professor Mlodinow does a good job of showing how executives are often fired just before they get their best results, and how seldom the new executive does any better than the prior one.

In sports, we get all excited about streaks. Professor Mlodinow dampens that enthusiasm by pointing out that like streaks can occur randomly. We need to check to see if the streak exceeds the expected degree of variation before deciding that something significant has taken place. (But don't stop cheering on your favorite team and players.)

The book also provides lots of thumbnail sketches of the human side of those who have advanced the science and math behind our ability to measure and understand randomness. In fact, I don't recall a book on this subject with better anecdotes about the scientists and mathematicians. That's the reward in this book if you already know about randomness.

If you know nothing on the subject, this book is the gentlest possible introduction.

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