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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 June 2013
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 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 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 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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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 26 October 2013
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 10 March 2014
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 points along the risk spectrum. Surveying many aspects of life and bringing us the truth about the risks in each, the book also cleverly compares these using a common currency of a "micro-mort". For anyone who values rationality and objectivity in the confusion of media claims built on badly designed "research", this is enlightening reading and highly recommended
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on 15 November 2014
This book discusses and presents a number of statistics relating to human life, and often shows how we mis-guess the true stats. Some of the information presented has considerable novelty. However, the authors' desire to popularise this by linking the information to three "typical" people: Norm (the normal one); Prudence (the careful one; geddit?) and Kelvin (the reckless one) becomes irritating quite quickly. I would have preferred the discussion of the statistics of life without this annoying attempt at personalising the information.
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on 4 March 2015
The Norm chronicles attempts to make a discussion of the statistics of risk interesting by embedding it in 'stories''.
The discussion of statistics IS interesting, but the 'stories' are dire! For the stories to work, they'd have to be either amusing or to-the-point: and they are neither.
Based on this statistical sample of one, Statisticians should stick to Statistics.
Having said that, the factual parts are well written and enlightening, so I'd suggest that you read it anyway and just skim past the first parts of the chapters.
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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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