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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.
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Top Customer Reviews
Surprisingly, there was a short chapter about Donald Trump on page 209. He is used as an example of how random events, rather than competence, can lead to fame and fortune and how the public always assumes that someone, who is famous or rich, earned their success. In fact, according to the author, this is mostly NOT true!
This is by no means a political book, but rather a lay language book on the history of mathematical randomness theory, and how it influences our lives in every domain! A great read. I will be remembering this book for some time.
In the first part of the book, the author tackles such puzzlers of probability as the Monty Hall Dilemma and the chance of having at least one girl if you have two children. In some ways, the counter-intuitive answers to these questions have been better explained by any number of other authors such as Marilyn vos Savant in her collection of articles entitled “The Power of Logical Thinking.”
But there’s still a great deal of new, arresting information here, including a lot of the history of mathematics. It’s fascinating to be reminded how the ancient Greeks pursued truth without a consistent way of representing numbers – without a decimal system, without the concept of zero. It’s also interesting to learn how the laws of chance were eventually developed, not as a purely scientific endeavor, but more often by gamblers interested in finding winning strategies.
You might encounter a few little stumbling blocks along the way. There’s a bit of sexism, as when the author uses Oprah’s fluctuating weight to demonstrate the principle of “sample space.” Then, since the author is British, he might occasionally be using terms in somewhat different ways than you’d find in a typical American classroom. For example, he doesn’t make clear the same distinction between the “average” and the “mean” that I learned in school.
However, this book really swings into delivering useful information in its last third. It helps rationalize the seeming portents and patterns behind Ouija boards, séances, and a host of what many persist in interpreting as “signs.” You’ll garner sound advice on topics such as the efficacy of hiring a financial manager with a winning track record. You’ll learn whether or not you get your money’s worth by buying the most expensive vodka and wine – whether or not you need to be wary of moving into an area that has been labeled as having a “cancer cluster” – whether you should judge team coaches or corporate executives (or anyone) by the last four or five years of results that their institutions realized during their leadership.
All-in-all, this book is fun, informative, and provides valuable tips on how to rationally judge whether or not the odds are really in your favor.
I found chapter 9 to be particularly enlightening. Randomness is clearly a part of our lives and often is the source of major world events and trends. Most of us know this, but as the author points out, we try to organize random events so that they make sense and point to a direction. He uses examples of the stock market and the success/failure of new movies and books. There are countless people making a nice living trying to convince us that they see a pattern when in fact there is none. There are many more "hmmph, I didn't know that" points in the book, but If this is your only learning, it is a worthwhile use of your time and money.
If this is how you feel, this book will explain why you are right, and if it is not how you feel, it might well change your mind. And even if it doesn't, it is an engrossing read, because it makes it clear how randomness, uncertainty and chance play a greater role in our lives than is generally recognized.