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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good outline of the history of risk
"Against the Gods" is a book outlining the history of risk. The book provides an outline of all the key players and their contribution to risk theory and management. Chronologically, the book begins in ancient times and stretches all the way to the present, where Bernstein delves into the works of modern day risk luminaries. The book is well written and the style is...
Published on March 8 2004 by obediah

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sloppy editing from Wiley
History is a deep subject. Probability theory is a deep subject. History of probability theory, and its applications to risk management is a very deep, if not murky, subject that deserves expert treatment. The author is commended for being the first to tackle such a thorny topic and to make serious effort to educate the lay reader. But the book is full of mistakes...
Published on Jan. 21 2001 by Reader


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sloppy editing from Wiley, Jan. 21 2001
History is a deep subject. Probability theory is a deep subject. History of probability theory, and its applications to risk management is a very deep, if not murky, subject that deserves expert treatment. The author is commended for being the first to tackle such a thorny topic and to make serious effort to educate the lay reader. But the book is full of mistakes.
Other reviewers have already commented on mistakes in history and in mathematics. Let me comment on mistakes in physics. Page 200, Einstein did not discover the motion of electrons. In 1905, Einstein wrote a paper on Brownian motion of particles that could be observed using an optical microscope. Page 216: Einstein did not demonstrate than an imperfection lurked below the surface of Euclidean geometry. Einstein used Riemannian geometry to describe gravitatonal effects. Page 232: von Neumann was not instrumental in discovering Quantum Mechanics in Berlin during the 20's. von Neumann worked on mathematical aspects of Quantum Mechanics that are far removed from anything like discovering the subject. The problem with mistakes like that, is that they make one very suspicious of any other statement on a topic that one is not familiar with.
One more comment but this time on a historical matter: On page 200, the author labels Poincare' as "Bachelier's nemesis". I recently read a biography of Bachelier, that unfortunately I cannot locate, and my recollection is that Poincare' tried to help him obtain an academic position. I'm afraid the author took rather drastic poetic license here, and it would be interesting if someone clarifies this point.
I think the book suffers from lack of serious editing on behalf of the publisher. A non-academic author should not be expected to cover such a subject all on his own and get it all perfectly correct. If the above points are too technical for an editor, how about at least making sure that all names mentioned are correct? Page 245: is there a Nobel prize winner named "Henry Simon"? Do you mean the 1978 Economics Nobel winner Herbert Simon?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good outline of the history of risk, March 8 2004
By 
obediah (Sydney, Australia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (Paperback)
"Against the Gods" is a book outlining the history of risk. The book provides an outline of all the key players and their contribution to risk theory and management. Chronologically, the book begins in ancient times and stretches all the way to the present, where Bernstein delves into the works of modern day risk luminaries. The book is well written and the style is engaging, with the author always managing to find a way to keep the reader entertained as well as informed.
The book does not pretend to be a "how to" guide for risk management, nor should readers treat it as such. Although the book does discuss modern risk management tools such as derivatives, it is devoid of complex technical analysis and its treatment of such devices is limited to outlining their place in the history of risk. Those looking for technical trading analysis should seek elsewhere.
One of the key questions a potential reader of this book should be asking is "Does this book have any practical applications with regards to modern day risk management?" Whilst as mentioned above the book is not a step by step guide, I firmly believe the book is useful insofar as it enables the reader to avoid the pitfalls of the past. For example, capital markets are continually surprising those who hold an unwavering belief in "regression to the mean". The books provides an explanation of what this theory states, how it has been applied and where overzealous disciples have misused this principle in the past. Overall I would recommend this book as an informative and enjoyable read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars History Buffs: Here you go!, April 14 2004
By 
Maureen (Kansas City, Kansas) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (Paperback)
Against the Gods draws you through a vast time span. Peter Bernstein begins with the conception of the Arabic numbeting system, up through present time super speed computers. Although, the history found in this book is interesting, the title leads you to believe it is all about investment risks, however it is more of a history text book than a manual. This book is a story of theories and how they developed. You will learn quite a bit about ancient times and how things evolved into the way that they are now, but do not expect any great help or advice on how to deal with risks in the investment world. Once you get into this book, Bernstein's writing sytle draws you in. The book is interesting enough, Bernstein's knowledge of hisotry is astounding. History Buffs: here ya go!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Painful, but Intriguing, Oct. 4 2001
This review is from: Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (Paperback)
It was hard to finish this book. I couldn't put it down though, as I kept hoping the author would get to the point. He posed many good questions, but it didn't seem like he answered many. He lost credibility with me because of numerous logical errors.
A technical person should not read this book, maybe it's more for psychiatrists, sociologists, or some other "ists".
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5.0 out of 5 stars Mathematics for freethinkers, for gamblers, for bankers, Jan. 9 2004
By 
N. Tsafos (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (Paperback)
Any reader who picks up "Against the Gods" for mathematical amusement will be surprised to find out that "the revolutionary idea that defines the boundary between modern times and the past is the mastery of risk." This claim, in the introduction, should be evidence enough that this book is no brainteaser, but rather the chronicle of a concept that has transformed how society thinks about the future.
Peter Bernstein, author and consultant, begins with the ancient civilizations that came close but never actually thought specifically about risk. The reasons are many-for one, absent Arabic numerals, computational mathematics were impossible. More importantly, conceiving of risk required a profound metamorphosis of the way people thought about the future: mathematicians and philosophers could only develop risk mathematics once people were convinced that the future was unpredictable and depended on their choices more so than the whims of any particular deity.
Most of the advances in the field came from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Often, the impetus was gambling; in fact, most of the puzzles that mathematicians tried to solve by developing probability mathematics were related to card games or craps. After that came the actuarial science, with mathematicians gripping with questions of life expectancies and illnesses.
Only in the second half of the twentieth century does risk become highly mathematical, as it enters into economics and finance, where precision and quantitative data overtake rough estimations and qualitative analysis. But with the emergence of precision have also come severe criticisms-on one end from psychologists who have cast doubt on the robustness of the rational behavior hypothesis, and on the other, from chaos mathematicians who prefer non-linear and complex explanations that go against the intellectual tradition of statisticians.
The history of risk, readers will find out, is more interesting than expected. It is a story of gamblers, philosophers, mathematicians, economists, psychologists and many others. Most of all, it is a chronicle of an ever ending dream: to anticipate or even predict the future. Whether people will ever be able to do that is doubtful; but there is no better account of that quest than Mr. Bernstein's "Against the Gods."
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4.0 out of 5 stars Long on history, but short on risk management strategy, Sept. 13 2003
By 
Govindan Nair (Vienna, VA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (Paperback)
The title of my review is aimed at warning those expecting to find a risk management manual in this book that they will be disappointed. So will those who expect to find the links between the evolution modern statistics and acturial science to the rise of insurance markets and risk management instruments which have proliferated in this century. Many other books quite ably cover these interesting topics.
Instead, the author provides a broad sweeping history of how modern statistics evolved and which answers some questions of why it took so long for modern risk management institutions to emerge. Ancient Greeks, among others, who appeared to be within easy reach of developing statisical theory, nonetheless relegated their fate to the whims of gods, rather than making them amenable to analysis with probabilities and actuarial tables. Tracing modern risk management from the time of Jacob Bernoulli's attempt to develop probabilities from sample data, the author also shows how a knowledge of probabilities can ultimately generate value. QUOTE Reality is a series of conneceted events, each dependent on another, radically diffeent form games of chance in which the outcome of any single throw has zero influence on the outcome of the next throw UNQUOTE The book closes with risk management innovations that followed the emergence of financial volatlity in the 1970s.
Ultimately, this book may be of less interest to statisticians and investment professionals, other than those who have a curious interest in how today's highly developed set of instruments, institutions, and policies around risk came about from the foundations provided in statistical theory.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant primer on the evolution of risk management, July 18 2003
This review is from: Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (Paperback)
"Against the Gods" retraces the historical journey of men and their battle in subduing the Gods. From the Oracle at Delphi to modern Chaos theory and Neural networks, Peter Bernstein weaves an enthralling story of the evolution of risk and how it has led to the development of modern financial economics, peppered with brief but colourful tales of the men who have contributed to this edifice.
The book could not have found a better author. Bernstein has enough credentials up his sleeves for the task. A professional investor who is no stranger to risk management, he is also a scholar and historian in the area of financial economics. Without being pedantic and too technical, Bernstein did a wonderful task of compressing 300 years of risk-related literature into an entertaining book that can be enjoyed by even a layperson.
Against the Gods increases our understanding of the evolution of risk, which is not as quite straight forward as we think. Though we have come a long way since Pascal and Fermat, the story of risk is not over. The book points out some of problems especially in the area of forecasting where a new way of interpreting and measuring risk may be needed.
This is a brilliant book which I strongly recommend as an introductory text for anyone interested in risk management. The same goes to professionals and academics, for the historical treatment of the subject matter in the book can offer a new perspective on risk.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read!, Sept. 21 2002
By 
"karnas84" (Wexford, PA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (Paperback)
Peter Bernstein's AGAINST THE GODS is an extremely informative and entertaining telling of the story of risk. Through the course of the book, he elucidates the basic concepts of risk in an informal yet highly effective manner. He delves into the human aspect quite a bit; we are privy to the trials and tribulations of those ingenious men who first pioneered the ideas behind chance and risk.
The primary purpose of AGAINST THE GODS is not as an introduction to risk management. For those who buy this book expecting such, you will be heavily disappointed. Instead, this is a terrific primer about risk and its history that will pique the interest of any person who has had little formal background in the science of risk management. The main strength of AGAINST THE GODS lies in its astounding clarity which does not come at the expense of comprehensiveness. Bernstein assumes no prior experience with mathematics or risk management. It is this accessibility which makes this the first book on risk you should buy.
In summary, I highly recommend this to anyone who has at least a passing interest in chance or risk. For those with experience in risk management, the history of risk presented in AGAINST THE GODS will still be very interesting. However, do not expect any of the ideas to be new.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Stocks go to extremes and this book ponders why, July 26 2002
By 
Eugene A Jewett "Eugene A Jewett" (Alexandria, Va. United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (Paperback)
Bernstein takes more time to get to what might be useful to the reader than he ought, but his effort culminates in quantifying how winners and losers are made in financial markets from past to present. Given the present crash in stock price there are many who could benefit from reading "Against the Gods".
The book traces the beginnings of probability theory and its evolution into insurance companies and ultimately to its contribution to the use of derivatives as a means of reducing uncertainty in the outcomes of "futures" transactions.
The book could have dealt more with behavioral economics, but when it does engage it delivers a message that is beneficial. All students, high school thru college, should be taught about risk measurement.
Man's capacity for self deception is what generates irrational decision making. The book covers this subject in ways that will not fail to impress the rader. Far better it would be if we could learn to be less emotionally involved with our investments and more by the numbers. Professional fund manager Robert Olstein's Financial Alert Fund examplifys a by the numbers value approach along with intense scrutiny as to how companies keep their books. He buys companies with excess cash flow for half of what he thinks they're worth and sells them when they go up 30%. He follows the prescription outlined in this book and beats the S&P index yearly. His is a real life example of the value of buying and selling with no emotional attachment to the investment. This book will help you understand why this approach works.
Given the collapse of the CPA-Consulting firm of Arthur Anderson and the unveiling of current corporate accounting abuses would suggest that we all could benefit from a rise in the level of our financial sophistication. This book is a good first step.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The inevitable nature of risk, July 24 2002
By 
This review is from: Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (Paperback)
Dear Amazon.com Reader,
All I can say for starters is "what an excellent work!". This book is an amazing account of the history of risk and it's role in society from the distant past, through the ages and right up to the present day. It gives a charming and fascinating insight into the world of risk taking and risk management, told with all the ease of a great communicator whose subject fits them like a kid glove. I read this book alongside a heavier tome on Risk Management - Mr Philippe Jorion's excellent "Value at Risk: The New Benchmark for Managing Financial Risk" that is - and I am thankful that I did, because not only did it act as a much welcomed counter-balance to some hefty risk theory but it also introduced me, in a light and accessible manner, to some of the concepts that I had been struggling with - an experience much like as if one could access a trusted source of profound knowledge on a subject, in my case Risk Management, without feeling that your brain has been given the once over with a common kitchen liquidizer.
An excellent, informative and interesting read. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a thorough, intelligent and readable introduction to risk.
However, one word of caution, this book has not been written to spoon-feed the less than enquiring mind, and to get the best out of it one really has to be a little more proactive and participatory. In some places it's like as if there are little puzzles left for the reader to think-out for themselves - which I find really quite engaging, a rare treat, the nearest thing to interaction one could get with the author via their written word.
Best regards,
martyn_jones@iniciativa.org
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Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk
Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter L. Bernstein (Paperback - Sept. 14 1998)
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