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Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk [Kindle Edition]

Peter L. Bernstein
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (223 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A Business Week, New York Times Business, and USA Today Bestseller

"Ambitious and readable . . . an engaging introduction to the oddsmakers, whom Bernstein regards as true humanists helping to release mankind from the choke holds of superstition and fatalism." -The New York Times

"An extraordinarily entertaining and informative book." -The Wall Street Journal

"A lively panoramic book . . . Against the Gods sets up an ambitious premise and then delivers on it." -Business Week

"Deserves to be, and surely will be, widely read." -The Economist

"[A] challenging book, one that may change forever the way people think about the world." -Worth

"No one else could have written a book of such central importance with so much charm and excitement." -Robert Heilbroner author, The Worldly Philosophers

"With his wonderful knowledge of the history and current manifestations of risk, Peter Bernstein brings us Against the Gods. Nothing like it will come out of the financial world this year or ever. I speak carefully: no one should miss it." -John Kenneth Galbraith Professor of Economics Emeritus, Harvard University

In this unique exploration of the role of risk in our society, Peter Bernstein argues that the notion of bringing risk under control is one of the central ideas that distinguishes modern times from the distant past. Against the Gods chronicles the remarkable intellectual adventure that liberated humanity from oracles and soothsayers by means of the powerful tools of risk management that are available to us today.

"An extremely readable history of risk." -Barron's

"Fascinating . . . this challenging volume will help you understand the uncertainties that every investor must face." -Money

"A singular achievement." -Times Literary Supplement

"There's a growing market for savants who can render the recondite intelligibly-witness Stephen Jay Gould (natural history), Oliver Sacks (disease), Richard Dawkins (heredity), James Gleick (physics), Paul Krugman (economics)-and Bernstein would mingle well in their company." -The Australian


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

With the stock market breaking records almost daily, leaving longtime market analysts shaking their heads and revising their forecasts, a study of the concept of risk seems quite timely. Peter Bernstein has written a comprehensive history of man's efforts to understand risk and probability, beginning with early gamblers in ancient Greece, continuing through the 17th-century French mathematicians Pascal and Fermat and up to modern chaos theory. Along the way he demonstrates that understanding risk underlies everything from game theory to bridge-building to winemaking.

From Publishers Weekly

Risk management, which assumes that future risks can be understood, measured and to some extent predicted, is the focus of this solid, thoroughgoing history. Probability theory, pioneered by 17th-century French mathematicians Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat, has made possible the design of great bridges, electric power utilities and insurance policies. The statistical sampling methods invented by dour Swiss scientist Jacob Bernoulli undergird diverse activities such as the testing of new drugs, stock-picking and wine tasting. Bernstein (Capital Ideas) animates his narrative with a colorful cast of risk-analyzers, including gambling addict Girolamo Cardano, 16th-century Italian physician to the Pope; and John Maynard Keynes, whose concerns over economic uncertainty compelled him to recommend an active, interventionist role for government. Bernstein also traces the development of business forecasting, game theory, insurance and derivatives, and surveys recent advances in risk forecasting made possible through chaos theory and by the development of neural networks.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 4993 KB
  • Print Length: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley (September 7, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001KYEYWK
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #331,635 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
183 of 197 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding book about the evolution of risk. April 26, 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Against the Gods is an outstanding book about the evolution of risk and man's attempt to understand it. Bernstein begins with ancient times and traces the history of numbers and probability leading eventually to today's seemingly complex financial world of portfolio theory, derivatives, and risk management techniques. Readers will learn about revolutionary thinkers including John von Neumann (inventor of game theory), Isaac Newton, Harry Markowitz (grandfather of portfolio theory), and the late Fischer Black (Black Scholes option formula) among others. Readers will also find enlightening stories about game theory, fibonacci numbers, chaos theory, the bell curve, regression to the mean, and more. Yet despite all the intelligence, computer power, and sophisticated techniques, Bernstein presents us with the growing body of evidence discovered by researchers including the late Amos Tversky and others that "reveals repeated patterns of irrationality, inconsistency, and incompetence in the ways human beings arrive at decisions and choices when faced with uncertainty." Against the Gods was chosen as one of Business Week's top 10 books of the year for 1996.
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260 of 287 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You'll Probably Find Parts Interesting (I'm 95% certain) February 17, 2000
Format:Paperback
Bernstein has written a thorough book that traces the linear progression of man's understanding of probability and risk.
This is a journey that begins with the importatioin of the arabic numbering system to the West and ends with super-computer crunched chaos theory. In between lie the fathers (all men) of mathamatical understanding. These individuals are the story of AGAINST THE GODS. Bernstein survey's the intellectual contrubutions of each as man strives to understood basic probability, the law of large numbers, bell curves, regression analysis, uncertainty theory and everything else you dimly remember from college statistics classes. He spends the latter quarter of the book on risk and probability theory in the financial world, where theorists have developed portfolio analysis, volitility studies, hedging and sidebets and other quantatative market plays.
Credit to the author for balancing his story against the very high probability that much of what these thinkers sought may be unattainable. He frequently mentions the humanity that these people try to explain with laws formulated from observations in the natural world. Although rightly impressed with his intellectual frontiersmen, Bernstein has no problem recognizing that the uncertainty that has always eluded explanation is us and that it helps make life worth living and progress possible.
This book is interesting for what it is. A story of the development of theories. I would have enjoyed more of a focus on the applications of this intellectual progression that led to the development of insurance and financial markets. Though these elements are mentioned often, they provide the backdrop for Bernsteins survey of theory.
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105 of 115 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars History of risk analysis, not of risk April 28, 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The book is a reasonably interesting history of the mathematical analysis of risk. Bernstein discusses the development of probability and statistical analysis, and even some of the more modern concepts behind portfolio theory. However, I was disappointed overall. The cover and title misled me---I was hoping for a history of how the understanding of risk and the development of analytical tools led to the development of insurance markets, etc., and fundamentally changed how businesses operated in the face of uncertainty. When a shipper could insure his cargo, instead of just waiting for bad news, how did that change the world? I want to know! Instead, I got to read about who discovered the bell curve. I'm trained in a mathematical field, so I felt the discussion got a bit tedious.
I felt, overall, that the discussion was aimed more at explaining the math in layman's terms rather than exploring the impact of these developments on how people do business and make decisions.
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86 of 105 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mildly interesting, but not remarkable March 21, 2001
Format:Paperback
The book was interesting in several ways. The author's central idea, that having a mature concept of risk management is a prerequisite for modern civilization, is intriguing, yet not fully substantiated by his book. Having studied Finance in business school, it was interesting for me to learn a bit of the history behind contemporary thinking on financial risk management (in other words, he explains who figured out & popularized the alpha/beta thing).
Towards the end of the book, he just began to touch on some of the non-rational behavioral aspects of humans, and I wish he had gone deeper. Some of the most interesting work in economics is being done today with the radical assumption that human behavior is driven more by emotion than by reason. Why do people make ill-conceived decisions about risk? Not really answered in this book.
The book is almost totally oriented towards financial risk, and doesn't really look at other forms of risk management. Although the writing style is engaging--this is NOT dry--there are some structural problems. The author wanders around a bit, and sometimes introduces ideas or personalities without ever explaining why.
It is important to mention that this is treated as a 'story', from the historian's point of view, and not as a text book. In this way, it is true to its title. The book cover makes no claims for this as an intellectual or academic treatment of the subject, which makes this a very accessible book. It isn't profound, and it is only mildly informative, but outside of the minor annoyances of some outline weakness, I enjoyed reading it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting.
Bernstein is one of my favorite author. He has a very good way to combine the subject of his book with history and to make the final result very interesting. Read more
Published 17 days ago by MartyD
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good:
Very good :D
Published 24 days ago by anna kedra
3.0 out of 5 stars I have always loved Bernstein's books.
It basically covers risk (in an abbreviated and in a more interesting manner) as is taught at college undergraduate programmes.
Published 1 month ago by John C
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book, but very wordy
As a scientist, I tend to like books that get to the point quickly. The early history of statistics is interesting but seemed to ramble a bit much for my liking. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Shelley Jeltema
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent review of history of risk management
A great read for anyone working in risk management or finance field. An excellent summary of the basic mathematical theories...
Published 3 months ago by SNJEZANA
3.0 out of 5 stars It fell short of my expectations
Bernstein's first chapter is "The Winds of the Greeks and the Role of the Dice,"

One of his first line's in the chapter is "since the beginning of recorded history,... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Ev Nucci
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting, though often dry, approach to the history or Risk...
Could have benefited from some condensing, but overall a well researched and thorough work. It inspired me to research some of the works by the men mentioned within. Read more
Published 4 months ago by HJ-Marseilles
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun read, but outdated and with no hyperlinks to notes
The book is a fun read. It's aimed at the public at large, but risk managers, actuaries and other professionals with a background in probability and statistics will get a kick out... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jaime
3.0 out of 5 stars Out of date
What I really would like to read is what the author thinks after the collapse of 2008 and the debacle of the big banks and their derivatives. Read more
Published 5 months ago by R.L.D.
5.0 out of 5 stars Many well earned praise and acclaim
This book has many, many great reviews and praises.

The history of risk and the mathematics behind it woven in an unmatched accessible narrative that is rare for the... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Valdez Ladd
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More About the Author

Peter L. Bernstein's nine books include the worldwide bestseller Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk. Bernstein is also an economic consultant and publisher of Economics and Portfolio Strategy, a semimonthly letter for institutional investors.



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