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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 7 November 2014
As somebody whose main purpose in my school years was to save others from the fate of being bottom of the class, I never would have seen myself even reading books for pleasure, much less books on the history of maths. Another reviewer is correct in using this description of the subject matter. I had no conception that different civilisations were advancing at such different rates in their knowledge of maths. For instance, I didn't realise how late some societies were in acquiring the number zero. They weren't so tardy about bringing in zero hours contracts though but that's another story. If some readers are turned off by the idea of maths history as a book subject, let me assure you that the book is both entertaining and informative. It is not just informative in a fascinating and enlightening way. We make so many decisions on hunches, probabilities and possibilities that we owe it to ourselves to be better educated.

The author breaks complex material down into relatively easy and well-explained examples and I am relieved to know that even Maths Professors have been known to misunderstand probability. He cites a newspaper sindicated columnist named implausably "Von Savant" who gave a correct solution that was nevertheless ridiculed over a theory, even though real world data proved beyond doubt that she was right. More shockingly million's to one Dna evidence is undermined by lab error rates of possibly 1%. We have all read about once in a hundred year weather events. I am either older than I think, or perhaps some of that data is questionable too. If nothing else the book will leave you more informed about probability than is good for us. (if ignorance truly is bliss).

The book does for statistics what Super Freakonomics does for Economics which is to share and open up the subject to people like me. It enabled me to be in awe of people like Galileo (who I thought just looked at stars) and Newton (who I thought just invented gravity soon after working out that apples usually fell downwards. It also documents an extraordinary contemporary of Leonardo Da Vinci, who despite a tragic life was responsible for some remarkable work which others were able to build upon and become better known for. Some of the gambling stories also show the power of knowledge and our capacity to be fooled.

In my view this is a book well worth reading.
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on 16 March 2010
This book is the perfect book for people wanting to understand how randomness and probability affects us in day to day life. It's highly educational and assists in understanding probability for the less mathematically able yet provides interesting facts and insights for those with a mathematical mind.

The book is excellent at showing how awful our minds are at understanding probability, and may help some readers with their daily decisions by analyzing their choices in a more mathematical manner instead of on gut instinct alone - decreasing the frequency of logical fallacies that are rife in the minds of today.

Mlodinow is a genius in his humor, a humor that is found on a higher level and requires a keen eye to understand yet with more simple humorous anecdotes and comments also included in the book.

Overall this book is an extremely good purchase, it's also taking me a while to read; despite being a keen reader this book is so interesting yet semi-complicated to understand it's taking me a long time to read - which isn't by any means a bad thing, on the contrary, it's only spacing out how long I enjoy it for!
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on 7 August 2010
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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on 10 June 2012
I read this book after having reads Taleb's Fooled By Randomness and the Black Swan. You might therefore suppose that I had already read everything there was to know about the subject. And yet The Drunkard's Walk is a very different book, presenting a very standard view (unlike Taleb's) in a very readable style, with plenty more to offer.

The author has made the material accessible to anyone by including no mathematical details or formulae, not even in an Appendix, but it is very well written and researched, with a vast array of real life situations and experimental data referenced.

I feel that anyone could understand, enjoy and benefit from this work, regardless of their background.

Given that both this book and Fooled by Randomness are from the same publisher, and printed by the same uk printers, it is disappointing that this book (unlike Fooled by Randomness) does not have a laminated cover. This means the book is more susceptible to water damage and stains for the sake of a few pennies.
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on 9 October 2009
A lively and well-written introduction to statisitics. Makes it clear how prone we are to create patterns where none exist
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on 11 June 2013
After reading certain books, the way you see the world changes. This book is one of them. It shows how your life if a result of random processes. You may have an illusion of control over it but this is just a mental construct. You had no control over where you are right now, the job you are doing or the people you are with. They are just a result or chance. A roll of the dice.
Another interesting thing I got out of it is how we wrongly assign worth to people who have largely nothing much to do with their successes. We think if a person is successful that they are intelligent in all aspects of life. But given enough people, through chance alone there will be the wildly successful who were in the right place at the right time. And if you were to run the simulation again there would be different Bill Gates and Steven Kings so even you would be a legend in some of the possible universes.
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on 27 September 2016
I am all in favour of popular science books - I have earned my living as a mathematician for most of my life, but I appreciate a broad view, and am not sniffy about being talked down to, if necessary. I was disappointed in this book. There is some interesting stuff in there, but there are far too many anecdotes, many of them adding very little insight, and the attempts to liven it up with humour left me cold. This is not a very short volume, and it deals with some fairly basic principles, albeit repeated in different ways again and again - it just about reaches the ideas of standard deviation and variance by the end.

If this book has helped a lot of readers then I am all for it, but to me it seems to cover too little ground, in too longwinded a manner. I would hesitate to book Dr Mlodinow as an after-dinner speaker...
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on 16 December 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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on 6 November 2013
I only recently started reading this, and have so far read only the first couple of chapters. However, it is very clearly written and so easy to follow, and written in an engaging style that holds my attention. It has already stimulated much thought and helped me see some of the pitfalls I might otherwise have fallen into in my reasoning. I am also enjoying the biographical and historical accounts of key thinkers in the field of probability and logic, which bring the subject to life and convey its human face. I certainly look forward to reading through the rest. I myself was recommended this book, and am glad that I was. Physically, this paperback edition is a handy size and weight, making it a convenient to read while away from home and travelling.
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on 17 December 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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