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The Broken Dice, and Other Mathematical Tales of Chance Paperback – June 15, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0226199924 ISBN-10: 0226199924

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 190 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (June 15, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226199924
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226199924
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,397,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This elegantly written essay is a subtle philosophical meditation on the role of chance, risk, fate and uncertainty in mathematics, physics, nature and our daily lives. Modern civilization "moves forward without measuring the risks incurred, and without thinking globally," warns Ekeland ( Mathematics and the Unexplained ), president of the Universite Paris-Dauphine. Stressing that chance is an inescapable, fundamental part of the universe, he examines its workings in subatomic physics, card playing, weather prediction, at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, in chaos theory, statistics and information theory. Leavening his occasionally technical presentation with literary examples ranging from Norse sagas to Rabelais, Isaac Asimov and Jorge Luis Borges, Ekeland concludes that every decision-making problem has a moral dimension--and the more important the decision, the larger this dimension. Illustrated.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

In this book, Ekeland confronts some of the questions faced by people who must use probability and statistical theory. He begins each section with a tale drawn from Norse legends, the Bible, or other sources and segues into mathematics. Starting with the problem of generating "random" numbers by nonrandom procedures, Ekeland then poses the philosophical question, "Is there really such a thing as chance or is it simply a manifestation of our own ignorance?" He later looks into the underlying ideas behind many branches of mathematics that deal with chance: information theory, game theory, chaos, statistics, evaluation of risk, even probabilistic number theory. The book's technical content is quite limited, frustrating the reader who would like to see more detailed examples. Nevertheless, these metaphysical musings by a knowledgeable probabilist make intriguing reading.
- Harold D. Shane, Baruch Coll., CUNY
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bukkene Bruse VINE VOICE on March 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ivar Ekeland is one of the better writers of popular mathematics. In "The Broken Dice," he continues with the themes explored in "Mathematics and the Unexpected." Divided into six chapters (Chance, Fate, Anticipation, Chaos, Risk and Statistics) the book is an elegant examination of the human struggle to find order in the seeming contingency that is the natural world. Mixed with the mathematical discussions are excerpts from Icelandic sagas, the Bible, and Shakespeare that reinforce the message that our analytical search for meaning is still fundamentally a humanistic endeavor.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
If you had to go through it in graduate school you'd probably agree with me that behaviour under uncertainty is usually handled rather mechanically by professors. You may even have considered that, anyway, not much intuition could be behind those theories. Ivar Ekeland shows in this book that dealing with the fundamentals of expectations, probabilities, games, and risk can be fun, and you get the intuition to start thinking by yourself as well. Early morning reading, though.
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By Mildly Skeptical on December 4, 2012
Format: Paperback
The Broken Dice, and Other Mathematical Tales of Chance

This is a well-written book, and, unlike some translations of mathematical writing, the translation of technical terms into English is good. There are occasional references in footnotes, but no bibliography or suggestions for further reading, at least in the English translation; perhaps French references were not judged to be very useful for English speakers. I also found the work vaguely unsatisfying, for similar reasons to those given by David Aldous -your experience may vary:) Some specific comments and reasons for giving only three stars follow:

1) Mathematicians sometimes have an eccentric sense of humor. I must warn other readers that there are a couple of passages where the author identifies "notional inventions" by attributing them to Jorge Luis Borges, who, besides being a famous author of magical realism, is (according to Wikipedia) an admitted hoaxer and forger. (Perhaps magical realism escaped the confines of literature and entered his day-to-day life:) Do not waste time looking for the story Ekeland heard where "in a famous lecture on the tales in A Thousand and One Nights Borges tells ... that I was unable to find in my edition." in a more complete edition; do not believe in the otherwise unknown "Brother Edvin" whose very modern-sounding discussion of chance is "debated in a remarkable manner in a manuscript that unfortunately has disappeared.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David J. Aldous on May 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As an aficionado of Norse sagas, I was intrigued to find that a mathematician wrote a book on probability framed by Saint Olaf's saga. Six essays on popular science topics, with clear explanations and interestingly non-standard historical and literary detours. But the choice of math topics (random number generators vs true randomness vs Kolmogorov complexity; random strategies in game theory; chaos, attractors, fractals and ergodicity; risk aversion and underestimation of rare serious events) seems in 2008 very unimaginative, and despite its colorful background the book brings no new insight or individualistic perspective to the science.
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