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The Norm Chronicles: Stories and numbers about danger [Paperback]

Michael Blastland , David Spiegelhalter
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Jun 2014

Meet Norm. He's 31, 5'9", just over 13 stone, and works a 39 hour week. He likes a drink, doesn't do enough exercise and occasionally treats himself to a bar of chocolate (milk). He's a pretty average kind of guy. In fact, he is the average guy in this clever and unusual take on statistical risk, chance, and how these two factors affect our everyday choices. Watch as Norm (who, like all average specimens, feels himself to be uniquely special), and his friends careful Prudence and reckless Kelvin, turns to statistics to help him in life's endless series of choices - should I fly or take the train? Have a baby? Another drink? Or another sausage? Do a charity skydive or get a lift on a motorbike?

Because chance and risk aren't just about numbers - it's about what we believe, who we trust and how we feel about the world around us. From a world expert in risk and the bestselling author of The Tiger That Isn't (and creator of BBC Radio 4's More or Less), this is a commonsense (and wildly entertaining) guide to personal risk and decoding the statistics that represent it.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (5 Jun 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846686210
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846686214
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 19,603 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Fascinating (Daily Mail 2013-06-14)

Helping people make sense of the barrage of confusing (and often misrepresented) statistics that riddle every day is a noble goal. (Economist 2013-06-22)

A fast-paced, whizz-bang style (The Times 2013-06-08)

Witty and illuminating, essential reading for anyone wanting to know whether they should try skydiving, or accept that third glass of wine (Financial Times 2013-07-13)

Accessible yet deep, The Norm Chronicles explains how statistical regularities and irregularities are central to every aspect of our lives. If Jonathan Coe and Gerd Gigerenzer were to collaborate on a sardonic self-help book, this is what it might look like. (Andrew Gelman, Professor of Statistics and Political Science, Columbia University)

Book Description

A far from average book: the real story behind the statistics on risk, chance and choice. Now in paperback.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Risks, Coincidences or Realism 26 Jun 2013
By ACB (swansea) TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Norm, Prudence and Kelvin are the names around this excellent and balanced account of the sensational risk factors that we read about incessantly. They, of course, represent stability (Norm), obsession with panic and danger (Prudence), and carefree Kelvin. Beyond these figures that are instantly recognisable is a concise and realistic review of the numbers game. Relative risk; 20%, 1:5 chance of increasing chances of cancer with a daily fry-up sounds sensational, balanced against the absolute risk of 0.25% 1:400. I'm not promoting grease but illustrating how statistics can be manipulated for dramatic presentation. Norm may be a regular guy who will live his life to expectation, Prudence may consider every 1 in a million chance will be her fate, whilst Kelvin is daredevil; marathon running kills as many as sky-diving.

Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter delineate many comparisons of hazards that put life and risk profiles into realistic terms. Winning the jackpot on the national lottery is 14 million to one. The odds are similar from dying minutes after buying the ticket. This no way denigrates the lifestyle improvements that can be made that are known and evidence based. It is a lesson of how percentages, statistics and scares can be manipulated without analysing the real figures. In the end, 'you pays yer money and takes yer chance'. Entertainingly written and full of factual and humorous notations, it is somehow comforting to know what the 'true' odds are. The authors extend their findings across many fields. Recommended and thoroughly enjoyable. It may sound daunting but is surprisingly an easy read thanks to the publishing team. (Kindle not paperback presentation).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unique and huge fun but a bit flawed 18 Nov 2013
Fascinating book about risk and chance and our responses to it, from one of its leading popularizers. It isn't wonderfully written (tries a bit too hard to be popular) but it's full of un-missable nuggets and insights. For example:

-Year after year, among us 21 million male Britons, we manage to fall off ladders at the same rate. In the five years to 2010, the number of men killed falling from ladders was 42, 54, 56, †53, 47. †All that randomness, yet it all comes out the same. †

--Spikes and peaks in things like bike accidents and knife crime are not examples of a society going wrong, but of journalists and politicians not understanding maths. This is the curse of thinking a history degree constitutes an education. The recent news items about 11 cyclists killed in London in two weeks is not a news item at all. It is a normal feature of thing called a Poisson distribution. Over a period of years, the maths predicts you will have a the odd bad week, The annual number of cyclist deaths, meanwhile, †stays eerily the same.†

--Relentlessly, crime falls, fewer babies die, health improves, fewer people get killed on the roads, yet we frequently worry more about the few hazards that are left.†

--There are as many deaths, and rather more serious injuries, from horse-riding than from Ecstasy/MDMA.

--Scarily, research shows that whatever our (personality-based) gut instinct is about an issue (climate change, nanotechnology, GM food), subsequent education only serves to reinforce our pre-held beliefs (see p 112).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A stress-free examination of risk 5 July 2013
The Norm Chronicles is a fascinating look into the study of risk, comparing the purely statistical view with how real people think. Blastland and Spiegelhalter create a compelling set of characters to place into risky and often humorous situations, and follow this up with a discussion of how risk is calculated and perceived.

It's an entertaining if numbers-heavy read, though the authors do well to put the statistics into context and break through some of the obfuscation that often stops the simple comparison of risks. As a reader with a mathematical background, I found it straightforward to follow, but I'm not entirely convinced it would be as clear to someone with less of an affinity for numbers.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book for neurotic irrational minds 7 Aug 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I purchased this book due to my love of maths (sorry) but also to help understand the real notion of risk as opposed to that published and over-inflated by the media. I have always had a habit of assuming that something horrific that has happened in the news could then be a risk to me, thus exaggerating my paranoia. This book really helped quell those fears and put risk into context. It has already made me a calmer and more outgoing person! Don't get me wrong though - this book isn't therapy. It is a scientific account of risks and dangers in life, and puts them into an absolute context through the witty and entertaining characters the book is based around. I've already bought two further copies for friends who I think will either enjoy or benefit from a read!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read 9 July 2013
By Pandora
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Having read a favourable review of this work, I bought it in the hope I would not just understand actuarial probability better but enjoy it too - I wasn't disappointed.

Quite apart from the intellectual arguments , the book is both interesting and amusing - and full of factual information about just how great (or vanishingly small) some of the risks we all worry about daily really are.

Not exactly the archetypal book for the beach but well worth a read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This book will help you live longer!
I love this book, the data and information about the risks of life and death are wonderful. The way of describing them with three characters who are a risk taker, a risk adverse... Read more
Published 15 days ago by Mike
2.0 out of 5 stars Fills a Slot that wasn't actually there
Nobody has ever needed to persuade me that maths is fun; I've always loved the stuff.
Sadly this book is an exercise in how not to convert the unbelievers. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Douglas Wood
4.0 out of 5 stars Good fun
Slightly irritating flicking to the back all the time for the footnotes which, in many cases, could have been included in the text without spoiling the flow. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Andrew Hunt
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read for a non mathematician
Working for many years with older people, and assessing risk as part of that, I assumed I was in a very small minority of people fascinated by the probability of risk. Read more
Published 3 months ago by KateP
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading for all "Normal" People..and Others
This is a special and unusual book, written by a risk management expert and livened up by a journalist who has invented 3 characters, - Prudence, Norm and Kevin, at different... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Andrew Mayo
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for a logical approach to the risks in life
An excellent guide if you want a scientific and statistical view to risk. Lots of fascinating and surprising information and a good insight into the mistakes we make.
Published 4 months ago by Ed Hounsell
5.0 out of 5 stars The Norm Chronicles
I have not finished reading it yet but so far so good.

A very interesting read that highlights the different ways statistics can be used and interpreted. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Bugeisha124
5.0 out of 5 stars Lots of Fun with stats
Fun book with some interesting little take home points, at least, I thought so. Accessible to all really, and interesting.
Published 7 months ago by M Dyson
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull
This book was much less interesting than I had expected. I would get to the end of a chapter and think: What was that about, I wonder? Read more
Published 8 months ago by Jago
5.0 out of 5 stars Helped me enormously
This book is not meant as self-help, but it has calmed me down a great deal. I've been able to rationalise my worries, particularly about my son. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mandog
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