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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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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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on 18 November 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).

--The likelihood of two youngish people conceiving a child when having random, unprotected sex is about 1 in 20, though this varies hugely through the woman's cycle, peaking at about 1 in 5 on the best nights, 

-Bad news frequently isn't. The authors give a true example of a Daily Express (yes, it would be) news item: eating a full English breakfast each day increases your risk of pancreatic cancer by 20%. This sounds alarming, until they unpick it. Only a small percentage of people ever get pancreatic cancer. So if 400 people have a full English breakfast every day for the rest of their lives,  5 of them will die of pancreatic cancer. Among a control group of 400 muesli eaters, only 4 would snuff it: not so bad. (Though of course the full English diet does other things also, to heart disease and obesity presumably.)

Finally, two helpful appendices in the back show the most effective-life-span altering daily habits:

* five fruit and veg every day: add four years
* twenty minutes light/moderate exercise: add two years
* two cups of coffee: add one year
* one small alcoholic drink: add one year.

*smoke 14-24 ciggies: take off seven years
* be obese: take off 2.5 years
*eat one portion of red meat: take off one year
*every alcoholic drink after the first: take off 0.7 years.
* watch TV for two hours: take off 0.7 years.

Unique book, a little overwritten. Great fun.
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on 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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on 7 August 2013
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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on 9 July 2013
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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I am interested in the different ways in which individuals assess risk and found this book fascinating reading. The risks in various everyday situations are illustrated by imaginary scenarios featuring Norm - Mr Average; Prudence - ultra cautious and Kevin/Kelvin and variations who see no risk in anything or choose to ignore the risks which others would take seriously.

My perception is that many people overestimate the risks of many things and underestimate the risks of things which they regard as safe. Health screening is a typical example of the latter and there are some interesting charts and diagrams in this book which appear to show that health screening may expose you to greater risks than not being screened.

If you want to know whether there is a risk of being hit by an asteroid, having something, or someone fall on you out of an aeroplane, dying in a plane crash, receiving a fatal dose of radiation, being killed or injured in a road accident, developing cancer or being adversely affected by the mobile phone mast at the end of the road then this is the book for you. But you might end up surprised and disturbed by many of the figures.

The book shows how human beings can incorrectly assess risk because of the fear factor. We find it difficult to separate our emotions from the real facts and figures. Headline news of four stabbings in a small area on the same day provoke alarm and fear and the perception that violent crime is increasing when in fact it is falling and the four cases are a statistical anomaly.

The book is written in an amusing and light hearted way but it does have a serious message to convey - that we need to look at the real figures behind the headline scare stories before we pack our bags and move into a nuclear bunker. The book has notes on each chapter and an index.
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on 16 May 2015
In essence if you like the style of writing in Galdwells books or Freakononimcs etc then this book is certainly for you. However this book actually lords over both those books in terms of wit and information. The anecdotal story commencing each chapter sheds light and laughter on the serious subject matter of each chapter which includes a cohort of information on risk in many aspects of life including hospitals, medicine, radiation, likelihood of being murdered, travel etc.

Spiegelgalter and Blastland expose many fallacies, particularly in the field of the medicine where the statistical evidence for statins and the many tabloid health stories are called into suspect. Indeed I was rather amazed that a CT scan was the equivalent of being 2.5km from the centre of a atomic bomb. Furthermore the delusional dangers of flying are compared with the statistical evidence of cycling down to the local shops or riding on your motorbike.

This book has a host of information and references that is sure to stir your interest in the subject and indeed will make you question the facts and figures thrown at in headlines days in and day out. Its also nice to read a book written by someone from the UK where many of the stats and subject matter are more relevant to UK readers. Great book.
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on 25 June 2014
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 person and then mr average (Norm) is a little stretched at times, but I am sure everyone would find something in this book that would make it worth the read. Just knowing what your everyday actions are likely to mean in terms of your chance of an early or late grave makes it worth the read. It also has some great ways of explaining complex data.
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on 19 June 2013
This book is a must for anyone even remotely interested in economics, stats, medicine, insurance, childcare and a whole raft of other areas. The authors bring a, probably (!), dry subject to life through three characters who most of us will recognise. There are some really eye opening chapters especially on medicine, risks to children and crime. Potentially complex pieces of maths are well explained and exemplified with a real lightness of writing.
why not 5 starts? Only because I could have done with some more chapters!
This book MUST be made compulsory for readers of the Daily Mail and Daily Express.
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on 3 October 2013
I listen to More or Less on Radio 4, it explains numbers you hear in the news. e.g. '3 litres of water a day' where it comes from and why you should take it with a pinch of salt.

This book does the same with life choices and the associated risk, when are you most at risk of dying? how likely you are likely to fall out of the sky when you do. There is a lot of text, very good interesting examples and touches on the reasons we make our decisions. We may fear being hit by an astoriod, an irrational fear some may say because the probability is so low but if it actually does happen it is fairly terminal so maybe. Shame if you are the 1 in 1400 Million (made up number).

A good book well written, I got the kindle version I am tempted to buy the hard copy so I can flick though it.

ps you don't need a degree in maths to read it
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