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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent analysis of the history of Randomness
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...
Published on 30 July 2010 by Antonis Michailidis

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what it says on the tin!
This is more of a mathematical history book than anything else, setting out how and when and by whom various concepts in statistics were first developed, and what their use is. So - if you like that sort of thing......
Published on 17 Dec 2009 by RoytheTyke


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book that makes probability and statistics accessible, 15 Mar 2012
By 
Andrew Dalby "ardalby" (oxford) - See all my reviews
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As a lecturer of statistics to a non-maths audience I often have problems getting students to engage with the subject. Here is a book that makes it entertaining in a clear and interesting way. There are no equations to get in the way and only a few graphs to look at. but the explanations are clear and the historical context brings the subject to life.

There are two small gripes. The first is that the Bayes chapter is not as clear as some of the others and it could refer back to the earlier ideas about probability of compound events as conditions make a difference. The second is that for me chaos is deterministic - we cannot know what will happen but something is caused by an unknown current state, rather than non-deterministic - completely random in a non-causal way. But this is hair splitting.

It is definitely a book I will recommend to my students and anyone else who wants a gentle introduction to the strange world of probability.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic guide through the History of Randomness, 7 Aug 2010
By 
Mr. James Higham (London) - See all my reviews
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Here is a fantastic guide through the human race's attempts to understand the complexities of events which are Random. A very good book where you can read about the a little about the lives of those who changed our understanding for the better and I recommend it to anyone with a interest in understanding randomness.
The book is very well written and flows nicely.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely fascinating., 16 Dec 2014
What an excellent book. I'm an undergraduate Economics student, and as such this book has little relevance to my course, but by God it's interesting. I was hooked from the first page; an amusing anecdote about a Spanish lottery winner who, in an interview, explained his number choices using some very dodgy mathematics...

Other examples are even better, my personal favourite being the Australian lottery consortium who realised that the expected value of each ticket exceeded the price of the ticket itself, and as such bought up every single one.

Captivating throughout, educational, and really really entertaining, you should definitely buy this book!

The only downside is that I find myself reading this when I should be reading microeconomics...sigh.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You need to read this, 8 May 2009
By 
Andrew Shand (UK) - See all my reviews
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This book tells you, simpy and entertainingly, why statstics is important. It does this by showing the traps and pitfalls that professionals and lay-people fall into. I honestly think that everyone should read this book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Read On A Random Topic, 31 July 2008
I've always been fascinated and intrigued by statistics and the laws of probability. If you too are into that sort of thing (or even if you're not), you will definitely find this book interesting and actually quite fun to read. The content really gets your mind thinking and actually expands ones views on life itself and how things work.

How To Keep Your Man: And Keep Him For Good

Real Life Dramas - Volume One: 1

Darren G. Burton
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 10 Aug 2008
Mlodinov is a superb communicator and makes easy and delightful sense of very many confusing but fundamentally important areas. There are important concepts here for anyone interested but this book should be on the syllabus for physicians, lawyers, politicians, business executives and many more. I have already bought 5 copies for friends and colleagues.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what it says on the tin!, 17 Dec 2009
This is more of a mathematical history book than anything else, setting out how and when and by whom various concepts in statistics were first developed, and what their use is. So - if you like that sort of thing......
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Odds and sods, 15 July 2011
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The first half of Leonard Mlodinow's essay on randomness charts the history of chance and gives a primer on the basic principles of probability. This is mildly interesting insofar as it recounts the endeavours of oddball enlightenment characters (many of them French, like Bernouilli family) and how they stumbled on the idea of probability, and iteratively worked out its implications, and hated each other all the while.

Mlodinow briefly states and, to my mind, under-emphasises, the historical and cultural significance of probability in the scientific worldview: it affords us an alternative to reductionism: not only is the need to delve ever further into microscopic (and atomic) detail to find "essential" qualities avoided; the importance of cause and effect at all is significantly relegated. No longer must we establish "this caused that"; probability cares simply that "the occurrence of this" is *correlated* with "the occurrence of that". Old habits die hard, of course, and the reductionist crowd does tend to draw a causative deduction from a strong correlation. The great Enlightenment sceptic David Hume (who sadly does not rates a mention here) would surely spin in his grave.

Having armed the reader with some rudimentary knowhow about normal distributions and standard deviations (it is well, and lightly explained: I wish my high school maths teacher had made it this simple), in the second half of the book Mlodinow takes anecdotal pot-shots at the illogicalities of our modern life. They are legion. Some of his examples are fascinating (the probability of *someone* beating Babe Ruth's record *at some time* are far greater than you'd think) some are a little old hat (the surprisingly high chance of footballers on the same field sharing a birthday), others are enlightening (the same manager night have consistently beaten the January/December annual performance of the Dow, but not the April/March annual performance), the implication being the parameters, periods and frequencies selected to a sample a data set (often chosen after collection of the data) can help to fit the data to a more compelling story) and some are jaw-droppers (in a period, the distribution of a set of mutual fund managers is exactly as you'd expect - some outperformers, some under performers most bunched around the middle: on the other hand, the comparison over two discrete periods was utter chaos: implication: performance across the sector is "volatile" (their word) or "more or less random ("Mlodinow's") if this is right, as stated, it is a matter of international outrage.

However, I don't think it is quite the full picture. Firstly, the data set Mlodinow uses to illustrate this point is precisely two. Having spent the first half of the book elegantly explaining how "false positives" - conclusions as to randomness (or non-randomness) should not be drawn from extremely small samples, this looks like a bit of an own goal. Were Mlodinow's sample 100 periods, and the relative performance between the managers still all over the place, there would be a better case for outrage. Secondly, in lionising the normal distribution, which he says "rules our lives", Mlodinow skates over the tendency of human interactions - of which our lives are comprised, after all - to be interdependent (that is, not truly random at all). A normal curve plots the distribution of discrete events (i.e., events whose occurrence do not affect each other's probability). But, if you yell "fire" run for the exit in a cinema, you make it more likely other people will too. If a stock starts falling, its price will drop and people will be inclined to sell. This is why market crashes and bank runs happen.

Writers like Phillip Ball and Benoit Mandelbrot have written compellingly about this interdependence. Where there events are reflexive in this way, probabilities follow a "power law" distribution (this looks rather like a normal curve in the middle, but crucially has a much longer, fatter tail at each end). Here, things can and do happen which are so far outside the realms of random probability as to be impossible. These are the "Black Swans" of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's recent book. The lesson the financial community has learned (well: apparently *hasn't* learned) is that one models interdependent events as if they were randomly distributed at one's utter peril: the events accounting for Long Term Capital Management and Lehman Brothers should not have happened in hundreds of millennia.

It is a little unwise, therefore, to write off portfolio theory purely on the basis of normal distributions (there are plenty of other grounds on which to write it off). On the other hand, Mlodinow may well be right to suspect that the "wisdom of crowds" aspect from which markets undoubtedly suffer (and markets are well represented by investment managers) conceals a singular lack of differentiation. The interesting exercise, not done, would be to compare the bell curves of individual investment managers. A particular succession of home runs may be put down to the size of a given hitter's standard deviation, but a batter still has to earn his own bell curve: It may have been unlikely in the extreme for Roger Maris to hit 61 home runs in a season, but it would have been as good as flat out impossible for me to.

That said, Mlodinow's central thesis - that we habitually mistake expertise and talent for a "lucky streak" - is an attractive one and it is interesting exercise to apply it to one's own sacred cows. And, for that matter, one's bÍtes noires.

Olly Buxton
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating reading, 3 May 2009
By 
S. Gale "Stephen Gale" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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The is another one of those fascinating books that I would put into the category of "behavioural economics". To be fair, it probably has a much wider appeal than that and will be of interest to anyone interested in popular science.

The book provides fascinating insights into the way our brains are wired and the way that we process probability and randomness can lead us to misinterpret events. For example, if we take the three events below and ask people to rank them in order of their probability, they will often put C before A or B. Yet, statistically it is the least probable (based on both A and B have to happen so it is impossible for the probability to be less than A or B).

A. My company's profits will increase next year
B. The economic climate will improve next year
C. My company's profits will increase next year and the economic climate will improve next year

Why is this? As Mlodinow puts it "if the details we are given fit our mental picture of something then the more details in the scenario, the more real it seems and hence the more probable we consider it to be - even though any act of adding less than certain details to a conjecture makes the conjecture less probable".

Fascinating stuff! And this book is full of such examples based on our peculiarly human understanding of conditional probability and randomness. In fact, I got halfway through this book and found it amusing that I was finding conditional probability so interesting! Just goes to show how well written it is! Highly recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Easy, fun and informative read., 8 Sep 2014
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This review is from: The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (Kindle Edition)
A fantastic introduction to randomness, probability and statistics, even if you are already familiar with many of the concepts, it is still an entertaining read. The text is kept lively with interesting illustrative tales and an informative background of some of the history of the key concepts and contributing figures.
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