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The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day Paperback – February 14, 2015
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Multiple lottery wins. Unexpected financial meltdowns. Lightning striking the same person several times. These events, while astounding, are nonetheless to be expected, as mathematics professor Hand capably explains in this well-plotted book. The principle hinges on the idea that seemingly improbable events, from the individual to the cosmic level, are commonplace due to several factors. Academic but not dry, the concepts are presented in a relevant way and at a good clip, with some eye-catching examples. Hand notes the counterintuitive nature of certain aspects of probability, as well as the history of how understanding in the field has developed. A touch of levity goes a long way toward making the subject engaging. As Hand shows, probabilities are also about people—what we view as remarkable and why. Far from being disillusioning or removing the magic from these events, the elegant framework beneath marvelous events is something worth marveling at in itself. For those interested in an understanding of the principles of probability, this account is sure to be an odds-on favorite, even for those without much background in the subject. --Bridget Thoreson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Human beings are a superstitious lot; we see patterns everywhere. But as Hand makes clear in this enlightening book, it all comes down to the math.” ―Jennifer Ouellette, The New York Times Book Review
“Very engaging . . . If you wish to read about how probability theory can help us understand the apparent hot hand in a basketball game, superstitions in gambling and sports, prophecies, parapsychology and the paranormal, holes in one, multiple lottery winners, and much more, this is a book you will enjoy. I will go further. The statistician Samuel S. Wilks (paraphrasing H.G. Wells) said that ‘statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write.' With that laudable goal in mind, The Improbability Principle should be, in all probability, required reading for us all.” ―John A. Adam, The Washington Post
“[A] lucid overview of the mathematics of chance and the psychological phenomena that can make probability seem counter-intuitive to so many . . . Hand has written a superlative introduction to critical thinking, accessible to everybody, regardless of mathematical ability.” ―New Scientist
“[An] ingenious introduction to probability that mixes counterintuitive anecdotes with easily digestible doses of statistics . . . Hand offers much food for thought, and readers willing to handle some simple mathematics will find this a delightful addition to the 'why people believe weird things' genre.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Lively and lucid . . . an intensely useful (as well as a remarkably entertaining) book . . . It can transform the way you read the newspaper, that's for sure.” ―Salon
“[Hand] leads readers through this unfamiliar land of probability and statistics with wit and charm, all the while explaining in layman's terms the laws that govern it . . . We predict there's a very good chance you'll enjoy this book” ―Success
“Enlightening and entertaining . . . an erudite but utterly unpretentious guide . . . ably and assuredly demystifies an ordinarily intimidating subject” ―Kirkus
“In my experience, it is very rare to find a book that is both erudite and entertaining. Yet The Improbability Principle is such a book. Surely this cannot be due to chance alone!” ―Hal R. Varian, chief economist at Google and professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley
“Considering that The Improbability Principle comes from the keyboard of David J. Hand, it was perhaps inevitable that it would be a certain winner!” ―John Pullinger, president of the Royal Statistical Society
“Written by one of the world's preeminent statisticians, The Improbability Principle provides you with a sense of what chance and improbability really mean, and engenders an understanding that uncertainty rests at the core of nature. I highly recommend this book.” ―Joseph M. Hilbe , president of the International Astrostatistics Association and ambassador for the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology
“As someone who happened to meet his future wife on a plane, on an airline he rarely flew, I wholeheartedly endorse David J. Hand's fascinating guide to improbability, a subject that affects the lives of us all, yet until now has lacked a coherent exposition of its underlying principles.” ―Gordon Woo, catastrophist at Risk Management Solutions and author of Calculating Catastrophe
“The Improbability Principle is an elegant, astoundingly clear, and enjoyable combination of subtle statistical thinking and real-world events. David J. Hand really does explain why ‘surprising' things will happen and why statistics matters.” ―Andrew Dilnot, coauthor of The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life
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Hand rattles off the names of a ton of principles and rules (too many in my view), but still I was able to take away some of the over-arching themes for which I think he was going: that our intuition is often wrong; that our inability to understand the basics of risk, chance and probability sometimes lead us to make bad choices because we under-estimate the risks of some things and over-estimate the likelihood of others.
As Hand points out, this might not have far-reaching consequences when deciding whether to spend a few bucks buying a lottery ticket. But our inability to grasp basic statistics can have life-changing consequences: whether to have a second medical test performed before plunging forward with serious treatment or whether a jury convicts someone.
This was a very interesting read. If this is "statistics for dummies," as some reviewers here have derisively called it, then I'm a dummy who is a little less dumb after reading the book!