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The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives Hardcover – May 13, 2008
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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.
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)
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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.
important rather than successes. Successes occur mainly due to chance
so credit is a hard question.
The book is well written although the author's digressions into the
historical background can reduce the force of the arguments on
randomness. However, I do appreciate the examples given. For example,
one example that comes to mind was the question whether the bombs
during the attempted German invasion of Great-Britain were targeting
certain locations, and thus showed technological superiority, or were
just the result of randomness. There are no formulas in the book and I
am amazed how the author explained probability concepts without them.
This book reminded me of Herbert Simon's Science of the Artificial and
his example of the complexity of the path of an ant. The complexity is
due to simple reactions to the environment and not to the intelligence
of the ant. That's exactly the point of the book!
The stories and anecdotes, Dr. Mlodinow (who has collaborated twice with Hawking!) relates are wonderful and well-told. The progression is thoughtful and coherent and interesting. Yet, the text stops well short of the math of "decision analysis,"which makes the chit-chat on poor human thinking beneath many other authors from both breezy and mathematical perspectives.
The modern editorial decision to exclude even one mathematical expression from a book on mathematics or even an illustration limits the work. While the book might read well on a Kindle(tm), books on this topic should be on an iPad/web with hyperlinks. The irony of an exceptionally intelligent author writing about the limits of human action, using weak tools that he emasculates even further, doesn't bring a smile to my face.
While this review sounds negative, it should be noted that The Drunkard's Walk is better than the average pop science/math book. Learning about Cardano's development of outcomes in a sample space was inspiring and the restatement of the importance of Bayes, without putting him down, was uplifting. This helped counter the exasperation of reading about Bernoulli's golden theorem four times without being told what it was. De Moivre was mentioned and more could have been said of Polya's role in fully proving De Moivre's Central Limit Theorem, but 20th century math doesn't exist in the book!
In summary, Mlodinow's book joins other pop books in providing one very important value: it is a quick read that provides scaffolding for a reader, not to go further intentionally, but to allow advanced work a home in the brain later. For example, decades ago, if I had known of Riemann's great contribution to geometry, I would have realized in the years ahead why I was being taught particular items and they would have stuck better.