Beyond Coincidence Paperback – Feb 1 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Although this book is filled with amusing (and not so amusing) anecdotes, there's remarkably little holding it together. The authors begin by attempting to provide some context for thinking about coincidences, but the arguments are both breathlessly superficial and disjointed, ranging from omens and oracles to the role of coincidence in literature, with a cursory discussion with British mathematician and skeptic Ian Stewart on why most coincidences aren't that surprising from a statistical perspective. The authors, London-based journalists, waver between fully discounting the stories they tell and finding them utterly mysterious. The authors write, "It is not possible to guarantee the absolute authenticity of every story in this book. Coincidence stories are often exaggerated, distorted and—God help us—invented." So what are we even talking about? Couple this with the fact that some of the anecdotes are simply interesting stories—one explaining a stock market scam, for example—that have nothing to do with coincidence, and readers are left with the impression that nothing mysterious is being discussed and certainly nothing is being analyzed.
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.
Two British journalists relay stories about bizarre coincidences. Whether a fan catches two foul balls in one game or a history buff fixates on similarities between the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations, human psychology resists consigning the facts to randomness. It's more satisfying, comforting, or aggrandizing to ascribe mysterious cosmic privilege to the one person out of millions who wins the lottery five times in succession. Most people will not do the math of probability (amusingly explained in Edward Burger and Michael Starbird's Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz, 2005). Plimmer and King accept that there's nothing more than chance at work in coincidental occurrences, but they revel in our common amazement over them. Piling anecdotes on high, the authors loosely categorize coincidences by type, such as weird facts about crimes and accidents and bumping into long-lost acquaintances on the street. Plimmer and King are fun, verbally agile guides who can entertain the credulous and skeptical alike. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I realize that the reader is supposed to do some of the work him or herself, to put a little thought into the material, but the nebulous character of the theme leaves one wondering what the point of the book was. If it was to instruct, there are probably better-albeit less entertaining books-out there. If it was simply intended to entertain, it was highly successful. Having read on the topic before, I had to smile at some of the stories; they certainly reveal why people are so utterly and irresistibly amazed by coincidence.
One of the best aspects of the book is that it suggests why we think as we do about coincidences: its a natural point of view that lead to human survival in a time before experiemental science was even possible. It's also natural by virtue of the fact that humans love a good, memorable story, and that sets us up to extract a skewed sample from the environment. The author's account of the pidgeons and the students responding to neutral stimuli as though they were reinforcements of whatever behavior was exhibited just before them are classic examples.
I can't decide to whom I'd recommend the title. A novice to the concepts of coincidence and miracles would probably come away with a rather confused notion of what was intended. At times the author seems to refute the science, which might lead one to believe that science has it "wrong." Especially when a writer refers to Einstein's "religion" in this context, it almost invites the wrong impression. For those who already do understand something of the math behind coincidences, the book might be too anecdotal. For those of us who just enjoy an amusing read, it's really very entertaining.
So, if you're looking for a book delving into the technical, probabilistic, back-ground of rare coincidences, this is not it. If you just want to pump your head full of tale after tale of rare coincidences, then you might be satisfied.
But there is another level, much major and transcendental: it has to do with those incidents that hardly may find a reasonable explanation. These authors made a very respectable compendium of a set of veridical coincidences, occurred along all these years. Myth or superstitious? Random incidents or predetermined events dictated by a Supreme design? Butterfly effect or the tragedy's spirit that still nestle hidden behind the shadow of the fortuity?
If you are an avid reader about these intriguing and mysterious issues, you will have made a brilliant choice in case to acquire this book.
For starters, the coincidences included are mostly not even that spectacular. Many involve mix up with individuals who share the same name or birthday. I expected more from a book filled with them. I have heard more incredible stories on the nightly news programs. Much more could be done.
A greater problem was pointlessness. Sold as a science work, a problem soon emerges. The authors see coincidence as a delightful phenomenah, but one not to be taken too seriously. Much like a parent enjoying the impish behavior of a small child. But then why waste their time? If there is meaning here, they are all wrong and the book can be discarded. If the authors are correct, so what? It is all just so much probability. It is no wonder these science books fail when it comes to 'wonder'.