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The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives Paperback – May 5, 2009
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Amazon Guest Review: Stephen Hawking
Published in 1988, Stephen Hawkings A Brief History of Time became perhaps one of the unlikeliest bestsellers in history: a not-so-dumbed-down exploration of physics and the universe that occupied the London Sunday Times bestseller list for 237 weeks. Later successes include 1995s A Briefer History of Time, The Universe in a Nutshell, and God Created the Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs that Changed History. Stephen Hawking is Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
A drunkard's walk is a type of random statistical distribution with important applications in scientific studies ranging from biology to astronomy. Mlodinow, a visiting lecturer at Caltech and coauthor with Stephen Hawking of A Briefer History of Time, leads readers on a walk through the hills and valleys of randomness and how it directs our lives more than we realize. Mlodinow introduces important historical figures such as Bernoulli, Laplace and Pascal, emphasizing their ideas rather than their tumultuous private lives. Mlodinow defines such tricky concepts as regression to the mean and the law of large numbers, which should help readers as they navigate the daily deluge of election polls and new studies on how to live to 100. The author also carefully avoids veering off into the terra incognita of chaos theory aside from a brief mention of the famous butterfly effect, although he might have spent a little more time on the equally famous n-body problem that led to chaos theory. Books on randomness and statistics line library shelves, but Mlodinow will help readers sort out Mark Twain's damn lies from meaningful statistics and the choices we face every day. (May 13)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The writer explains concepts clearly, and explores the role (and misunderstandings of) probably in Hollywood, the board room, the courts, and why the Greek's, despite their immense mathematical contributions had no understanding – and a great skepticism of – probability.
This book contains just the right balance of history, philosophy, mathematics, popular culture (Monty Hall problem, etc), and it’s accessible to all. If you’re on the fence about it, look at the Table of Contents for some inspiration.
It is a great read and it may open a new world for you if you read it with care.
How we infer causes from outcomes and forget the how randomness could have played part is key.
Love the idea on the asymetry between past and future and He explains it very clear
In summary this is a very good book, with clear ideas. The only downside I found is that could feel a bit repetitive (some points are made several times).
I definitely recommend this book as an starting read on randomness in our lives.
The key takeaway to me is his paragraph in the last chapter - that by not giving up, we're able to increase the probability of success since it's under our control!
What I’ve learned, above all, is to keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized. For even a coin weighted toward failure will sometimes land on success. Or as the IBM pioneer Thomas Watson said, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.”
In a similar vein, even experts cannot predict the success of books or films submitted for publishing. JK Rowling suffered numerous setbacks before her Harry Potter series was finally adopted, earning very handsome sums for her, Bloomsbury and Warner Brothers pictures. So too for Bruce Willis and Bill Gates. Anne Frank's diary was initially treated with similar derision. While hindsight is often (claimed) to be 20/20, foresight is notoriously unreliable, as Mlodinow illustrates in the latter half, after describing statistical significance and the bell curve. Most people do not expect clusters; they think patterns will inevitably reveal themselves in any random distribution. This is, obviously, not the case. Random events, by definition, cannot be predicted (at least not with our current technology).
The counter-intuitive and hard-to-grasp nature of probability doesn't stop there. Studies have shown that ordinary citizens not trained in probability are quite prone to simple errors. For example, if they are asked whether it is more likely that Jane, a woman in her 20s, is a feminist, or both a feminist and an elementary school teacher, most will answer that the latter is more likely. The latter, in fact, is a mathematical impossibility. It can only be equally likely, not more likely, than the former. Part of the difficulty lies in the sheer number of possibilities for any given situation, such as the risk of a single valve in a fission reactor leading to a meltdown. Since valves are open quite often, a single valve is likely to be considered par for the course. It is also why the phrase "military intelligence" is frequently treated with scorn. Although in hindsight the decision to leave Pearl Harbor be, due to its solid defensive emplacements, politics inevitably leads to finger-pointing and blame games.
Trial by mathematics can lead to the innocent being convicted, especially since the wrong probabilities are often used (i.e. where the number of inter-racial couples in a city who own a certain car, vs. the number of total couples in that same city). Likewise, the Monte-Hall problem (using a gameshow where a contestant can win a goat or a car) had the world's top mathematicians making a simple blunder, unwilling to accept their error until seeing it demonstrated in a computer simulation (for more details, watch the film 21).
Regression towards the mean is explained through genetics (shorter parents are more likely to have children who outgrow them, and vice versa. A recurring method for keeping things interesting is the continual use of brief biographies peppered throughout the book. Even the Greeks and Romans get a smattering of compliments and criticism (for instance, they had no concept of zero, and irrational numbers were thought to be too dangerous for the common populace). I especially enjoyed the tale of the mathematician who took Las Vegas casinos for a very costly ride, with some assistance from his students.
This book is a great way to make complex mathematics fun, and you won't have to cramp your hands while you do it!