From Publishers Weekly
Everything is possible, yet only one thing happens": this is the essence of probability, quantifying what could
happen. Filmmaker Michael Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan (coauthor of The Art of the Infinite
) trace probability back to its original conception in the 1660s (by a gambler, of course) and show how it affected not only science, which would be impossible without it, but also religion and philosophy. Many pioneers of the math that grew into statistics were trying to define the divine; the inventor of combinatorics, for example, was a medieval missionary seeking to convert Muslims by showing that any statement combining the qualities of God was true in the Christian faith. This book rigorously develops its math from first principles with a passion that would make even an amateur heady with the possibilities contained within a bell curve. The authors explore the promise of the math of probabilities through its most powerful modern applications, from determining the effectiveness of new drugs to weighing the merits of combat strategies. In all these cases, the authors place the study of probability firmly in the context of humanity's ongoing struggle to assign meaning to randomness. Never before has statistics been treated with such awe and devotion.
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From dice, cards, and coin flips to insurance, weather, and warfare, Kaplan and Kaplan tour the human compulsion to discern order in events governed by randomness. Readers familiar with Peter Bernstein's Against the Gods
(1996), a popular history of probability, may find this work too basic, but readers new to the topic are in for an enjoyable treat. Confronted with uncertainty, most people depend on intuition, a very unreliable means for aligning expectation with observation. The authors exploit this foible in their many anecdotes, both in stories about those who fell prey to visceral instinct, and those--usually mathematicians--who tried to assert some predictive control over chance. Allied to the entertaining stories are the theoretical foundations of statistical probability laid down by those mathematicians and physicists, such as Cardano, Pascal, Laplace, and Boltzmann. The authors organize matters overall into subjects such as medical diagnosis, pharmaceutical trials, law, battle, and, of course, wagering. And with their many touches of irony, Kaplan and Kaplan write as intriguingly as their inveigling topic. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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