What are the odds of two people at a party having the same birthday? Or that you'll draw a fourth queen for your poker hand? Or that Earthlings are alone in the universe? Or that the cute girl in accounting will go out with you on a date? If you're the kind of person who spends a lot of time pondering such dilemmas, you'll probably enjoy Jeffrey Rosenthal's entertaining book Struck by Lightning
. Rosenthal, a Harvard math PhD and a professor of statistics at the University of Toronto, makes statistics come alive with colourful writing and everyday examples of how uncertainty affects our lives. He notes that people have a love-hate relationship with randomness. "We are inexplicably delighted by strange coincidences and striking similarities," he writes. But we also hate the dark side of uncertainty--the possibility of disease, plane crashes, collapsing bridges. Rosenthal's goal is to help teach readers to worry less and appreciate the randomness of life. "Uncertainty is here to stay," he writes. "We have two options: we can let uncertainty get the better of us or we can learn to understand randomness."
Rosenthal shows how readers can use probability theory for everything from improving their luck at poker or Monopoly to assessing whether they might be attacked by terrorists while traveling. It can be used to devise a better computer password or to analyze studies of a drug recommended by your doctor. And yes, readers can figure out the odds they'll be hit by lightning and how a certain Cuban farmer happened to be struck five times. There are even clues about whether life exists on other planets. In a world where events often seem to be spinning out of control, Rosenthal makes a convincing case that we should embrace randomness, and his book is a great primer for how to do it. --Alex Roslin
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From Publishers Weekly
Statistics and probability made fun, easy and useful for everyday life? Rosenthal does just that by explaining common uses of statistics (such as polling), demonstrating how probability can lead to better decision making (should you ask your cute co-worker out on a date?) and getting downright silly (chapter nine is a noir mystery). The author maintains that our fear of untoward events can be eased with the logic of probability and knowing how to evaluate what the real odds are of such an event occurring. A multitude of applications of "the Probability Perspective" are laid out: calculating average losses at gambling, deciding which coincidences are truly surprising, understanding studies that show that a new drug reduces fatalities from a given disease, playing silly party games and using uncertainty for one's own benefit. Anecdotes—some personal stories, some universal situations—illustrate ways that the probability perspective can set one's mind at ease and help in navigating all aspects of life. The lighthearted presentation ensures that readers will not feel burdened by all the knowledge they are gaining and the concluding summary—disguised as a final exam—is sure to deliver an A to everyone, which is what Rosenthal deserves for this clever book. (Mar.)
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