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Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities Paperback – April 28, 2006

4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Statistics and probability made fun, easy and useful for everyday life? Rosenthal does just that by explaining common uses of statistics (such as polling), demonstrating how probability can lead to better decision making (should you ask your cute co-worker out on a date?) and getting downright silly (chapter nine is a noir mystery). The author maintains that our fear of untoward events can be eased with the logic of probability and knowing how to evaluate what the real odds are of such an event occurring. A multitude of applications of "the Probability Perspective" are laid out: calculating average losses at gambling, deciding which coincidences are truly surprising, understanding studies that show that a new drug reduces fatalities from a given disease, playing silly party games and using uncertainty for one's own benefit. Anecdotes—some personal stories, some universal situations—illustrate ways that the probability perspective can set one's mind at ease and help in navigating all aspects of life. The lighthearted presentation ensures that readers will not feel burdened by all the knowledge they are gaining and the concluding summary—disguised as a final exam—is sure to deliver an A to everyone, which is what Rosenthal deserves for this clever book. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

JEFFREY S. ROSENTHAL is a professor in the Department of Statistics at the University of Toronto. At 24, he received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard. He has written two textbooks on probability theory and is also an amateur musician and computer-game programmer. He lives in Toronto.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 270 pages
  • Publisher: Joseph Henry Press (April 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0309097347
  • ISBN-13: 978-0309097345
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #493,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Schultz VINE VOICE on March 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book is written in short, digestible bites, and offers one of the best overview answers I've read to everyone's perennial question, "What are the odds?"

Early chapters are a primer on casino games. In less than an hour, you can read up on how the major casino games are played, how to calculate your odds of winning in many common situations - and how much you will lose on every play on average if you play for any length of time. Rosenthal emphasizes this last proviso. He shows how EVERY casino game is stacked against the players and will whittle away your stake to nothing in the long run. But some games offer better odds and will deplete you less rapidly than other games.

Then Rosenthal moves on to tell you how to win at the game of life - or more precisely, how not to be caught up in the frequent illogic and hysteria that is generated by headline news and TV shows. He gives a better perspective on what kinds of dangers you are likely to actually face - and they are not terrorists or SARS or street crime.

A few more mathematically challenging topics are addressed - such as the Monty Hall dilemma, and how trends are spotted using linear regression lines. Rosenthal makes the calculation of p-values (used to determine how often a result will happen just by chance) almost comprehensible.

Some of his suggestions about using utility theory when we have to reach a decision may be of questionable value. Probably many of us have tried to make decisions "rationally" by using some formula that involves assigning some level-of-desirability number to each of our options, then considering how likely it is that the benefits of that option will actually materialize.
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Format: Hardcover
I love books like this! I saw this one, browsed through it a bit and bought it right away because it looked very good - it was. I can confidently say that this is one of the best books of its type. The author explains, in very clear language, the nature of probability and its use in understanding some of the many areas in everyday life that could otherwise remain very obscure or misunderstood. The topics covered include gambling games and methods, the ways casinos operate (this may be very surprising to many), card games and strategies, pre-election polls, certain game shows, the war against spam, weather prediction, and many other areas where probability plays a key role. The author, an expert in the field, writes very well and in such an engaging and often humorous style that the book is almost impossible to put down. Those who read this book will understand a bit more about how the world that we live in actually works. I highly recommended this book to everyone!!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's difficult enough to get a high school student interested in probabilty. It's nearly impossible to get an adult to understand the workings of probability theory. Sometimes I think that if I hear the "Law of Averages" invoked one more time by an aggressive driver or a lottery player, I'll scream. I wish there were some way to teach the average human being about probability.

"Lightning" is a good start. It does not read like a textbook. It presents the ideas behind probability using object lessons and examples that even the dullest layman can relate to. It introduces the concepts first, using concrete examples such as lottery winnings and crime statistics, and then presents the abstract principle behind the concepts, and attaches the proper technical labels to the concepts and the principle.

The author introduces the reader early to the idea of a "Probability Perspective," a new way to look at the world through eyes that understand probability. The author returns constantly to this theme of the Probability Perspective, with the expectation that by the end of the book the reader will understand what is meant by the term, and will have claimed such a perspective as his own.

Some of the chapters can be read independently, and some build on previous chapters. It's most useful to read the book from cover to cover. The final chapter is a carefully disguised "final exam," at the end of which the readers can decide for themselves whether they have acquired a Probability Perspective.

The language of the book is appropriate for a high school senior or a college student, and is easily readable by an adult.

The only problem with the book is not the book itself, but the subject.
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Format: Paperback
This book was well written and provided a lot of information about statistics in an interesting way. I found the book to a quick read that held my attention. Sometimes books on statistics can be wordy and use too many mathematical terms that lead to the text being hard to follow and uninteresting, but this book did not do that. The author did a very good job of giving a brief overview of what probability is and what it means, but at the same time, he went into detail about some of the more complicated applications of probability.

I think the reason why I got a lot of this book and enjoyed it so much is because the author related probability to real life situations. Throughout the chapters, the author will present a true story that relates to probability and the topic he is discussing in the chapter. For example, the chapter "Dealing the Cards", the author tells the story of two people arguing about whether the card game bridge was all luck or not. These stories help the reader get through a topic that can be difficult for others to understand.

Another reason why this book captured my attention was because of the variety of topics this book talked about. I found a lot of these topics to be interesting and fun to think about how probability can be a part of your everyday life. Some examples of chapters in this book deal with themes and topics such as randomness, playing cards, genes, making decisions, and voting for politicians. If you are interested in how probability relates to any of these topics, this book would be a good start in learning something about it.

This book also includes a "Final Exam" chapter at the end of the book so you can test yourself on the information that is given to you in the book.
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