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Customer Review

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Anecdotal Introduction to How Randomness Fools Us, 14 Aug. 2008
This review is from: The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (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.

Enjoy!
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Donald Mitchell
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