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Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk [Paperback]

Peter L. Bernstein
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 14 1998 0471295639 978-0471295631 1
A Business Week, New York Times Business, and USA Today Bestseller

"Ambitious and readable . . . an engaging introduction to the oddsmakers, whom Bernstein regards as true humanists helping to release mankind from the choke holds of superstition and fatalism." -The New York Times

"An extraordinarily entertaining and informative book." -The Wall Street Journal

"A lively panoramic book . . . Against the Gods sets up an ambitious premise and then delivers on it." -Business Week

"Deserves to be, and surely will be, widely read." -The Economist

"[A] challenging book, one that may change forever the way people think about the world." -Worth

"No one else could have written a book of such central importance with so much charm and excitement." -Robert Heilbroner author, The Worldly Philosophers

"With his wonderful knowledge of the history and current manifestations of risk, Peter Bernstein brings us Against the Gods. Nothing like it will come out of the financial world this year or ever. I speak carefully: no one should miss it." -John Kenneth Galbraith Professor of Economics Emeritus, Harvard University

In this unique exploration of the role of risk in our society, Peter Bernstein argues that the notion of bringing risk under control is one of the central ideas that distinguishes modern times from the distant past. Against the Gods chronicles the remarkable intellectual adventure that liberated humanity from oracles and soothsayers by means of the powerful tools of risk management that are available to us today.

"An extremely readable history of risk." -Barron's

"Fascinating . . . this challenging volume will help you understand the uncertainties that every investor must face." -Money

"A singular achievement." -Times Literary Supplement

"There's a growing market for savants who can render the recondite intelligibly-witness Stephen Jay Gould (natural history), Oliver Sacks (disease), Richard Dawkins (heredity), James Gleick (physics), Paul Krugman (economics)-and Bernstein would mingle well in their company." -The Australian

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Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk + Irrational Exuberance + Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits and Other Writings
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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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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sloppy editing from Wiley Jan. 21 2001
By Reader
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Good outline of the history of risk March 8 2004
By obediah
"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
3.0 out of 5 stars History Buffs: Here you go! April 14 2004
By Maureen
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
2.0 out of 5 stars Painful, but Intriguing Oct. 4 2001
By Andy A
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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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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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Technically out of date
Recently there have been extensive improvements in the analyses of data and prediction methods which the author may not know.
Published 22 months ago by Merv Palmer
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview of the history of financial risk management
Against The Gods is a popular account of the history of financial risk management. The author takes us through a journey of discovery spanning almost a thousand years, from the... Read more
Published on Sept. 12 2008 by Jacob Gajek
3.0 out of 5 stars Neutral Recommendation - Do Not Buy - Maybe Borrow
I am going to give you a short review and to the point.
I read this book because it was recommended on "Money Talk" the national radio show on every weekend for 6 hours on... Read more
Published on Feb. 8 2004 by J. E. Robinson
5.0 out of 5 stars Five stars
Great book on risk and on the history of risk.
Published on Feb. 3 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing - Not really about the stock market
I bought this book because it was suggested after I ordered other books relating to the stock market and investing. Read more
Published on Dec 1 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read! A must read history for any gambler or investor.
Bernstein is a true historian that writes in a very easy to read and engaging style. I had a hard time putting this book down. Read more
Published on Nov. 4 2003 by Ronald Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars Moral: There is very little new under the sun!
As I went through the book, one thing I realized was that we seem to attribute pathbreaking ideas to people without realizing the history behind it all. Read more
Published on Sept. 22 2003 by Ganesh V Jois
4.0 out of 5 stars Long on history, but short on risk management strategy
The title of my review is aimed at warning those expecting to find a risk management manual in this book that they will be disappointed. Read more
Published on Sept. 13 2003 by Govindan Nair
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Comprehensive
Great book. Very comprehensive in its coverage of risk and risk methods.
Published on Sept. 9 2003 by "exist2"
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Pleasant Risk Overview
Peter Bernstein has written a very entertaining overview of risk. Historical information and application to today's investment environment are both developed in a pleasant read. Read more
Published on Aug. 30 2003
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