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.
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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.