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Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk Paperback – Sep 14 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (Sept. 14 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471295639
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471295631
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 499 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,634 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From Amazon

With the stock market breaking records almost daily, leaving longtime market analysts shaking their heads and revising their forecasts, a study of the concept of risk seems quite timely. Peter Bernstein has written a comprehensive history of man's efforts to understand risk and probability, beginning with early gamblers in ancient Greece, continuing through the 17th-century French mathematicians Pascal and Fermat and up to modern chaos theory. Along the way he demonstrates that understanding risk underlies everything from game theory to bridge-building to winemaking. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Risk management, which assumes that future risks can be understood, measured and to some extent predicted, is the focus of this solid, thoroughgoing history. Probability theory, pioneered by 17th-century French mathematicians Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat, has made possible the design of great bridges, electric power utilities and insurance policies. The statistical sampling methods invented by dour Swiss scientist Jacob Bernoulli undergird diverse activities such as the testing of new drugs, stock-picking and wine tasting. Bernstein (Capital Ideas) animates his narrative with a colorful cast of risk-analyzers, including gambling addict Girolamo Cardano, 16th-century Italian physician to the Pope; and John Maynard Keynes, whose concerns over economic uncertainty compelled him to recommend an active, interventionist role for government. Bernstein also traces the development of business forecasting, game theory, insurance and derivatives, and surveys recent advances in risk forecasting made possible through chaos theory and by the development of neural networks.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Reader on Jan. 21 2001
Format: Hardcover
History is a deep subject. Probability theory is a deep subject. History of probability theory, and its applications to risk management is a very deep, if not murky, subject that deserves expert treatment. The author is commended for being the first to tackle such a thorny topic and to make serious effort to educate the lay reader. But the book is full of mistakes.
Other reviewers have already commented on mistakes in history and in mathematics. Let me comment on mistakes in physics. Page 200, Einstein did not discover the motion of electrons. In 1905, Einstein wrote a paper on Brownian motion of particles that could be observed using an optical microscope. Page 216: Einstein did not demonstrate than an imperfection lurked below the surface of Euclidean geometry. Einstein used Riemannian geometry to describe gravitatonal effects. Page 232: von Neumann was not instrumental in discovering Quantum Mechanics in Berlin during the 20's. von Neumann worked on mathematical aspects of Quantum Mechanics that are far removed from anything like discovering the subject. The problem with mistakes like that, is that they make one very suspicious of any other statement on a topic that one is not familiar with.
One more comment but this time on a historical matter: On page 200, the author labels Poincare' as "Bachelier's nemesis". I recently read a biography of Bachelier, that unfortunately I cannot locate, and my recollection is that Poincare' tried to help him obtain an academic position. I'm afraid the author took rather drastic poetic license here, and it would be interesting if someone clarifies this point.
I think the book suffers from lack of serious editing on behalf of the publisher.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By obediah on March 8 2004
Format: Paperback
"Against the Gods" is a book outlining the history of risk. The book provides an outline of all the key players and their contribution to risk theory and management. Chronologically, the book begins in ancient times and stretches all the way to the present, where Bernstein delves into the works of modern day risk luminaries. The book is well written and the style is engaging, with the author always managing to find a way to keep the reader entertained as well as informed.
The book does not pretend to be a "how to" guide for risk management, nor should readers treat it as such. Although the book does discuss modern risk management tools such as derivatives, it is devoid of complex technical analysis and its treatment of such devices is limited to outlining their place in the history of risk. Those looking for technical trading analysis should seek elsewhere.
One of the key questions a potential reader of this book should be asking is "Does this book have any practical applications with regards to modern day risk management?" Whilst as mentioned above the book is not a step by step guide, I firmly believe the book is useful insofar as it enables the reader to avoid the pitfalls of the past. For example, capital markets are continually surprising those who hold an unwavering belief in "regression to the mean". The books provides an explanation of what this theory states, how it has been applied and where overzealous disciples have misused this principle in the past. Overall I would recommend this book as an informative and enjoyable read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Maureen on April 14 2004
Format: Paperback
Against the Gods draws you through a vast time span. Peter Bernstein begins with the conception of the Arabic numbeting system, up through present time super speed computers. Although, the history found in this book is interesting, the title leads you to believe it is all about investment risks, however it is more of a history text book than a manual. This book is a story of theories and how they developed. You will learn quite a bit about ancient times and how things evolved into the way that they are now, but do not expect any great help or advice on how to deal with risks in the investment world. Once you get into this book, Bernstein's writing sytle draws you in. The book is interesting enough, Bernstein's knowledge of hisotry is astounding. History Buffs: here ya go!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Andy A on Oct. 4 2001
Format: Paperback
It was hard to finish this book. I couldn't put it down though, as I kept hoping the author would get to the point. He posed many good questions, but it didn't seem like he answered many. He lost credibility with me because of numerous logical errors.
A technical person should not read this book, maybe it's more for psychiatrists, sociologists, or some other "ists".
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Format: Paperback
Any reader who picks up "Against the Gods" for mathematical amusement will be surprised to find out that "the revolutionary idea that defines the boundary between modern times and the past is the mastery of risk." This claim, in the introduction, should be evidence enough that this book is no brainteaser, but rather the chronicle of a concept that has transformed how society thinks about the future.
Peter Bernstein, author and consultant, begins with the ancient civilizations that came close but never actually thought specifically about risk. The reasons are many-for one, absent Arabic numerals, computational mathematics were impossible. More importantly, conceiving of risk required a profound metamorphosis of the way people thought about the future: mathematicians and philosophers could only develop risk mathematics once people were convinced that the future was unpredictable and depended on their choices more so than the whims of any particular deity.
Most of the advances in the field came from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Often, the impetus was gambling; in fact, most of the puzzles that mathematicians tried to solve by developing probability mathematics were related to card games or craps. After that came the actuarial science, with mathematicians gripping with questions of life expectancies and illnesses.
Only in the second half of the twentieth century does risk become highly mathematical, as it enters into economics and finance, where precision and quantitative data overtake rough estimations and qualitative analysis.
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