on October 25, 2014
I was a graduate student in statistics at Virginia Tech. about 1970. Then we knew that prof. I. J. Good would sometimes refer to conversations he'd once had with Alan Turing. Later it was revealed that these had taken place at Bletchley Park, the top secret WWII code breaking facility. Good was an avid Bayesian. Thanks to this book I now know that his enthusiasm was the result of his experience at Bletchley.
The book gives a superb account of the history of Bayesian methods from their inception until their blossoming in the recent decades of the computer age.
on January 12, 2012
This book is about a particular method of statistical analysis,Bayes theorem: the people who developed it, statisticians who opposed it, and the real life problems Bayesian methods helped to solve. The author must have struggled with an important decision at several stages during the writing of this book: how much statistical detail should be included? For the most part, the book is readable by those (like myself) with little or no background in statistics.
Sharon Bertsch McGrayne describes some strongly opinionated and argumentative characters. I found these people and the problems they tackled the most readable and enjoyable parts of the book.
In this book, the author relates the turbulent history of Bayes' Rule - from its (first) inception in the 1740s to the present. The book has 17 chapters and these are grouped into five main parts. Each chapter concentrates on a different stage in Bayes' Rule's history and they are presented in the chronological order of the events described. Key individuals and their contributions are very well highlighted throughout.
Overall, I found the book interesting, loaded with information and worth the read. The entire text keeps referring to the variety of fields in which Bayes' Rule has been successfully used to solve problems when little or no prior information was available. In this, the author has succeeded admirably. Unfortunately, this whet my appetite for some mathematical details, i.e., an appendix with several worked out problems of different types illustrating how this rule can be actually applied in different fields. Sadly, only one such example is provided (in Appendix b) - a simple problem that can be easily solved using common sense. (In fact, it contains an error: on page 256, item 2, the ratio in the last line should be 32/40 and not 32/10000; the formula at the top of the following page should be similarly corrected.)
I found the prose to be generally clear, often lively and captivating but sometimes a bit dry. Despite the fact that the book is about a mathematical technique, those who are math-phobic need not fear since people and events are the main focus here. Consequently, this book can be enjoyed by anyone.