The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives Hardcover – May 13 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
A drunkard's walk is a type of random statistical distribution with important applications in scientific studies ranging from biology to astronomy. Mlodinow, a visiting lecturer at Caltech and coauthor with Stephen Hawking of A Briefer History of Time, leads readers on a walk through the hills and valleys of randomness and how it directs our lives more than we realize. Mlodinow introduces important historical figures such as Bernoulli, Laplace and Pascal, emphasizing their ideas rather than their tumultuous private lives. Mlodinow defines such tricky concepts as regression to the mean and the law of large numbers, which should help readers as they navigate the daily deluge of election polls and new studies on how to live to 100. The author also carefully avoids veering off into the terra incognita of chaos theory aside from a brief mention of the famous butterfly effect, although he might have spent a little more time on the equally famous n-body problem that led to chaos theory. Books on randomness and statistics line library shelves, but Mlodinow will help readers sort out Mark Twain's damn lies from meaningful statistics and the choices we face every day. (May 13)
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“A wonderfully readable guide to how the mathematical laws of randomness affect our lives.”--Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time
"The Drunkard's Walk is a magnificent exploration of the role that chance plays in our lives. Often historical, occasionally hysterical, and consistently smart and funny, this book challenges everything we think we know about how the world works. The probability is high that you will be entertained and enlightened by this intelligent charmer."--Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology, Harvard University, and author of Stumbling on Happiness
"Fast, chatty, very readable, and a fine introduction to ideas that everyone should know." --David Berlinski, author of A Tour of the Calculus
“A primer on the science of probability.”–The Washington Post Book World
“Mlodinow writes in a breezy style, interspersing probabilistic mind-benders with portraits of theorists ...The result is a readable crash course in randomness.”–The New York Times Book Review
“A jaunty read worthy of any beach or airplane. . . . Mlodinow has an intimate perspective on randomness. . . . He draws direct links from the works of history's greatest minds to the deeds of today's not-so-great ones, explaining phenomena like the prosecutor's fallacy (which helped acquit O.J. Simpson) and the iPod shuffle function (eventually programmed not to be truly random, lest songs hit upon eerie playing streaks).”–The Austin Chronicle
“Please read The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow, a history, explanation, and exaltation of probability theory. . . . Mlodinow . . . thinks in equations but explains in anecdote, simile, and occasional bursts of neon. . . .The results are mind-bending.”–Fortune
“Challenges our intuitions about probability and explores how, by understanding randomness, we can better grasp our world.”–Seed Magazine
“[Mlodinow is] the perfect guy to reveal the ways unrelated elements can relate and connect.”–The Miami Herald
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Top Customer Reviews
This book may be easier if you had some basic understanding of statistical fundamentals, but a good grasp of problem solving would suffice.
I recommend this for anyone who wants to improve their ability to recognize "junk" stats from sound reasoning.
Love the OJ example!
Human perception is such that we like to find patterns where none exist. I remember the CEO of a company I worked for would draw a trend line through one data point with great authority, totally unaware of what he was doing.
More often, we judge by samples of behavior and time that are too short to be representative. Professor Mlodinow does a good job of showing how executives are often fired just before they get their best results, and how seldom the new executive does any better than the prior one.
In sports, we get all excited about streaks. Professor Mlodinow dampens that enthusiasm by pointing out that like streaks can occur randomly. We need to check to see if the streak exceeds the expected degree of variation before deciding that something significant has taken place. (But don't stop cheering on your favorite team and players.)
The book also provides lots of thumbnail sketches of the human side of those who have advanced the science and math behind our ability to measure and understand randomness. In fact, I don't recall a book on this subject with better anecdotes about the scientists and mathematicians. That's the reward in this book if you already know about randomness.
If you know nothing on the subject, this book is the gentlest possible introduction.
The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives is structured loosely around a history of probability theory. Some of the biographical material about early thinkers in the field--Cardano, Fermat, Pascal to name a few--is essential to the story of how our modern concepts developed, but more forgettable than the concepts arising from their work. Mlodinow uses a wide variety of examples to illustrate the availability bias, the meaning of the sample space, and the law of large numbers; the latter states that the larger the sample, the more the average converges toward the expected value. The more times you toss a coin, in other words, the closer the number of heads will be to 50% of the tosses. That's one you could assume through intuition, but did you know that it took Jacob Bernoulli 20 years to prove it mathematically? And while the probability of flipping five heads in a row is ... well, not small (this is not a book about math), the odds of the sixth coin toss being a head is still 50%.
Mlodinow makes fairly interesting work of the "Monty question:" if you are on "Let's Make a Deal" and choose door #1 for a grand prize, and before revealing your choice Monty Hall opens door #2 to reveal a goat, then offers you the chance to switch to door #3, should you switch?Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Thoughtful, compelling, interesting , funny - a great exploration of how randomness affects our lives and how logical flaws in the application of the laws of probability can have... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Foodie
It's a little "deep" sometimes for us ordinary folks, but Mlodinow style keeps you interested as he does his best to get to your level. Read morePublished 12 months ago by bert
This book will change your life!!!lt is brilliant! And it is true,,,,,,,,,,,,the God waves.Published 21 months ago by Elizabeth Green
I've listing to this book 3 times... Brilliant!
If you are interested in probability and randomness this is the book for you. Read more
Clearly and completely explains how little control we have over events in our lives. The author writes in an entertaining fashion with many good examples in addition to the... Read morePublished on Feb. 16 2014 by barbara r okun
This book nudges us along the way. There is no guarantee it will make us smarter or more successful, but it might just be one of those events in our lives we will look back on... Read morePublished on Aug. 31 2013 by Terry Wilton
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