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on June 17, 2014
In twenty-seven chapters the authors discuss various aspects of risk in our daily lives – from birth to old age. One such topic is addressed per chapter. Each chapter begins with a page or two of fiction in which the same characters interact in some situation that helps to introduce the reader to the particular topic about to be discussed.

Although many numbers are quoted in this book – including some on probability - no actual math is presented regarding how they were derived. The reason for this is that in most cases, the numbers were quoted from tabulations, e.g., number of people of a certain age group killed due to some activity in a certain country in a certain time period. Much space is devoted towards psychology, perception, mind games, etc., pertaining to various risks. Number comparisons are consistently made between the United Kingdom and the USA.

I found this book to contain a lot of information. I did have a bit of trouble following some of the fictional sections at the beginning of the chapters, i.e., several terms and phrases used were much more British than North American thus requiring me to re-read several paragraphs (while scratching my head). Otherwise, the prose is clear, friendly, lively and engaging.

This book can be enjoyed by any interested reader in search of risk-related data. However, I believe that psychology enthusiasts may wind up enjoying it the most.
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on July 28, 2014
Authors Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter examine the chances of dying from a wide variety of causes. You might think this sounds morbid. Think again. These guys find fun ways to play with numbers. Who has not wondered how their life will end? Everyone is mortal, and Michael and David delight in the subject. They examine a wide variety of terminal situations.

Since you are reading this, it's obvious that you did not die while emerging from the birth canal. That happens to be one of the many ways of dying that they examine. Since death while your mother was delivering you didn't happen, you may want to guess your lifespan by considering the biblical allotment of three scores and ten. That might not work for you though. Our lives are becoming longer on average.

The book deals with murder and suicide. Chances of facing terminal situations because of breast cancer for women, or prostate cancer for men are covered. Skydiving and flying are looked at. You name the possible causes of death. They are probably covered in some way in the course of the book. There's surprisingly well-balanced and detailed statistical data from both the United States and the United Kingdom.

If you are wondering why the book is called The Norm Chronicles, here is your answer. Norm is a guy named Norman. Of course since he is Norm, he has to be normal. He is talked about from his time in childhood all the way well into his adulthood. He is just your average sort of guy. You will meet other characters who are not so normal. Their names are just as intriguing as Norm's. See what I mean when I allude to this being a fun book?

This is something worth your time, and you will learn things you never knew before. I got my copy through Goodreads First Reads, and found every minute with it to be highly enjoyable.
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on July 13, 2013
A most interesting combination of fiction and nonfiction. Part math, part philosophy, and part psychology, all presented in a most enchanting way.
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on July 26, 2013
Although the book was written in the UK there are many direct references to the USA. However, almost all of the stastics presented can be directly related to lifestyles in the US given the many similaraties between the two countries. An easy read explaining statistics and how such information can be framed, that is manipulated, for maximum sensationalism. A real treasure trove for trivia nuts.
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on August 29, 2013
This is an important book and fits comfortably with "Thinking, fast and slow", "Black Swan" and "The Signal and the Noise".

The authors explore the evaluation and communication of risk through fictional characters: Norm, Prudence and the Kelvins and their journey's through life. Norm is the average man who uses reason and probability/statistics to traverse the challenges of life. Prudence is extremely risk averse and views the world through a lens of fear. The Kelvins are the risk-takers, the daredevils. Each chapter is themed on an important part of everyday life associated with risk. The chapter begins with a vignette in the lives of the characters, The vignette is followed by a clear, extremely interesting and sometimes provocative look at the data.

This book is brave in the scope of issues it covers and its honest discussion of the tension between our fast and slow thinking aspects of our brains (to use Kahneman's characterization). Topics such as transport, crime, sex, , hralthcare, unemployment, aging and death. The issues of framing, availability bias, our propensity to over and under-estimate risks are covered well.

The complex philosophical issues of what is probability, and do humans act rationally and the complexity of decision making are discussed. The authors arrive at a compassionate pragmatic view that probability is a tool that is our best bet for an event based on the available information that can be updated with new information. A tool that we can use to deal with uncertainty. The authors demonstrates a number of complex tools in understandable methods: the power of graphically visualizing data, the importance of realizing the expected values versus observed (example of Poisson model of murder rates), and the limitations our predictions.

I admit that I was not as much interested in the fictional narrative as the discussion of the data and its interpretation and limitation., This is an important, brave, at times humorous and clearly written book that should help us all think more clearly and risk and consequences.
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on July 9, 2013
An attempt to describe risk in real as well as emotional terms - thoughtful approach to a subject with both statistical and emotional , judgmental complexities ... Nicely done.
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on December 18, 2013
Amusing look at the statistics of daily life -- and about the way we use statistics. This British entry chronicles the risks and probabilities of everything from birth to death. That's interesting, but what's really interesting is the degree to which our perceptions about risk vary from the reality. The book is totally non- technical, but very useful to those who are interested in thinking about the way we think. Also, in knowing how the risks of sky diving compare to, say, the risks of heroin use
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on August 22, 2014
In many ways this is an exemplar of marvelous popular science writing. It discusses risks we face as individuals living our ordinary lives. It presents a lively mixture of data, ways of thinking about data, and the "psychology of risk", that is our emotional reactions to risks. And these are illustrated by both real-world stories and imaginative little fictional stories about Norm (everyman) as contrasted to risk-averse Prudence and risk-ignoring Kelvin. Wonderfully readable, and everything is eminently sensible.

There are 27 short chapters, mostly on specific sources of risk (Accidents, Drugs, Transportation, Lifestyle, Crime, Surgery, ...) A recurring theme is quantitative comparisons of different risks via the concepts of Micromorts and Microlives. Mentioned in passing are many psychological factors (natural vs human-made risks, availability heuristic and confirmation bias, zero-risk bias, cultural theory of risk, the influence of media, ...) but these are not given the heavy emphasis as in Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow. Risks arise from activities we want, or de facto need, to do, and the book emphasizes that there are no "right answers" to the balance between risk and reward. In other words it avoids being judgmental, either in the "your intuition is wrong" sense of Kahneman, or in the "risks in the medical and financial world are deliberately obfuscated by self-serving professionals" sense of Gigerenzer's Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions, instead implicitly inviting readers to judge for themselves. Reading the non-judgmental Drugs chapter would benefit anyone expressing opinions on that issue. And a dramatic graphic (figure 6) shows the complete disconnect between the actual magnitude of risks and the extent of their media exposure.

My only mildly critical comments concern matters the authors are well aware of. The examples and data are mostly British, as in the literary style of fiction. It focuses on risks of death, rather than injuries or quality of life issues, for the usual reason that we have much clearer data on deaths, but this inevitably skews the choice of topics. Finally, the authors know perfectly well that the major serious risks to everyman Norm are in fact the smoking/alcohol/diet/exercise factors in Chapter 17; so it is ironic that, echoing the media disconnect mentioned above, the book devotes only 1 of 27 chapters to these factors.
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on July 13, 2013
An interesting angle for thinking about risk. Lots of data on risk. Entertaining while serious. Read it to figure out what is the chance you will die tomorrow.
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on November 20, 2013
I really liked this book. As a bit of a worry-wort it was great to learn the actual statistics of dying from all kinds of non-natural causes. Seems a bit morbid but knowing how unlikely it is for bad things to happened seemed to calm down my amygdala. Especially when statistics prove that the things we most worry about are far less dangerous than things we do everyday without any significant concern.

There are all sorts of goodies in this book eg
Going through the airport scanner results in 0.0001 milliSieverts (equivalent of eating one large banana)
And flying from London to New York results in 0.07 milliSieverts (equivalent of eating 700 large bananas)

It is not at all text book like but still very informative on a variety of topics including fatal illness, crime, accidents, sports etc
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