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With the born storyteller''s command of narrative and imaginative approach, Leonard Mlodinow vividly demonstrates how our lives are profoundly informed by chance and randomness and how everything from wine ratings and corporate success to school grades and political polls are less reliable than we believe.

By showing us the true nature of chance and revealing the psychological illusions that cause us to misjudge the world around us, Mlodinow gives us the tools we need to make more informed decisions. From the classroom to the courtroom and from financial markets to supermarkets, Mlodinow''s intriguing and illuminating look at how randomness, chance, and probability affect our daily lives will intrigue, awe, and inspire.

Review

“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 wonderfully readable guide to how the mathematical laws of randomness affect our lives.”

—Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time

 

"[Mlodinow] thinks in equations but explains in anecdote, simile, and occasional bursts of neon. . . . The results are mind-bending."

Fortune

 

"Even if you begin The Drunkard''s Walk as a skeptic, by the time you reach the final pages, you will gain an understanding-if not acceptance-of the intuitively improbable ways that probability biases the outcomes of life''s uncertainties."

Barron''s

 

“Delightfully entertaining.”

Scientific American

 

“A magnificent exploration of the role that chance plays in our lives. The probability is high that you will be entertained and enlightened by this intelligent charmer.”

—Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness

 

“Mlodinow is the perfect guy to reveal the ways unrelated elements can relate and connect.”

The Miami Herald

 

“A primer on the science of probability.”

The Washington Post Book World

 

“Challenges our intuitions about probability and explores how, by understanding randomness, we can better grasp our world.”

Seed Magazine

 

“Mlodinow has an intimate perspective on randomness.”

The Austin Chronicle

About the Author

Leonard Mlodinow received his doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, was an Alexander von Humboldt fellow at the Max Planck Institute, and now teaches about randomness to future scientists at Caltech. Along the way he also wrote for the television series MacGyver and Star Trek: The Next Generation. His previous books include Euclid''s Window: The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace, Feynman''s Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life, and, with Stephen Hawking, A Briefer History of Time. He lives in South Pasadena, California.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Peering through the Eyepiece of Randomness  

I remember, as a teenager, watching the yellow flame of the Sabbath candles dancing randomly above the white paraffin cylinders that fueled them. I was too young to think candlelight romantic, but still I found it magical-because of the flickering images created by the fire. They shifted and morphed, grew and waned, all without apparent cause or plan. Surely, I believed, there must be rhyme and reason underlying the flame, some pattern that scientists could predict and explain with their mathematical equations. "Life isn''t like that," my father told me. "Sometimes things happen that cannot be foreseen." He told me of the time when, in Buchenwald, the Nazi concentration camp in which he was imprisoned and starving, he stole a loaf of bread from the bakery. The baker had the Gestapo gather everyone who might have committed the crime and line the suspects up. "Who stole the bread?" the baker asked. When no one answered, he told the guards to shoot the suspects one by one until either they were all dead or someone confessed. My father stepped forward to spare the others. He did not try to paint himself in a heroic light but told me that he did it because he expected to be shot either way. Instead of having him killed, though, the baker gave my father a plum job, as his assistant. "A chance event," my father said. "It had nothing to do with you, but had it happened differently, you would never have been born." It struck me then that I have Hitler to thank for my existence, for the Germans had killed my father''s wife and two young children, erasing his prior life. And so were it not for the war, my father would never have emigrated to New York, never have met my mother, also a refugee, and never have produced me and my two brothers.  

My father rarely spoke of the war. I didn''t realize it then, but years later it dawned on me that whenever he shared his ordeals, it was not so much because he wanted me to know of his experiences but rather because he wanted to impart a larger lesson about life. War is an extreme circumstance, but the role of chance in our lives is not predicated on extremes. The outline of our lives, like the candle''s flame, is continuously coaxed in new directions by a variety of random events that, along with our responses to them, determine our fate. As a result, life is both hard to predict and hard to interpret. Just as, looking at a Rorschach blot, you might see Madonna and I, a duck-billed platypus, the data we encounter in business, law, medicine, sports, the media, or your child''s third-grade report card can be read in many ways. Yet interpreting the role of chance in an event is not like intepreting a Rorschach blot; there are right ways and wrong ways to do it.  

We often employ intuitive processes when we make assessments and choices in uncertain situations. Those processes no doubt carried an evolutionary advantage when we had to decide whether a saber-toothed tiger was smiling because it was fat and happy or because it was famished and saw us as its next meal. But the modern world has a different balance, and today those intuitive processes come with drawbacks. When we use our habitual ways of thinking to deal with today''s tigers, we can be led to decisions that are less than optimal or even incongruous. That conclusion comes as no surprise to those who study how the brain processes uncertainty: many studies point to a close connection between the parts of our brain that make assessments of chance situations and those that handle the human characteristic that is often considered our prime source of irrationality-our emotions. Functional magnetic resonance imaging, for example, shows that risk and reward are assessed by parts of the dopaminergic system, a brain-reward circuit important for motivational and emotional processes. The images show, too, that the amygdala, which is also linked to our emotional state, especially fear, is activated when we make decisions couched in uncertainty.  

The mechanisms by which people analyze situations involving chance are an intricate product of evolutionary factors, brain structure, personal experience, knowledge, and emotion. In fact, the human response to uncertainty is so complex that sometimes different structures within the brain come to different conclusions and apparently fight it out to determine which one will dominate. For example, if your face swells to five times its normal size three out of every four times you eat shrimp, the "logical" left hemisphere of your brain will attempt to find a pattern. The "intuitive" right hemisphere of your brain, on the other hand, will simply say "avoid shrimp." At least that''s what researchers found in less painful experimental setups. The game is called probability guessing. In lieu of toying with shrimp and histamine, subjects are shown a series of cards or lights, which can have two colors, say green and red. Things are arranged so that the colors will appear with different probabilities but otherwise without a pattern. For example, red might appear twice as often as green in a sequence like red-red-green-red-green-red-red-green-green-red-red-red, and so on. The task of the subject, after watching for a while, is to predict whether each new member of the sequence will be red or green.  

The game has two basic strategies. One is to always guess the color that you notice occurs more frequently. That is the route favored by rats and other nonhuman animals. If you employ this strategy, you are guaranteed a certain degree of success but you are also conceding that you will do no better. For instance, if green shows up 75 percent of the time and you decide to always guess green, you will be correct 75 percent of the time. The other strategy is to "match" your proportion of green and red guesses to the proportion of green and red you observed in the past. If the greens and reds appear in a pattern and you can figure out the pattern, this strategy enables you to guess right every time. But if the colors appear at random, you would be better off sticking with the first strategy. In the case where green randomly appears 75 percent of the time, the second strategy will lead to the correct guess only about 6 times in 10.  

Humans usually try to guess the pattern, and in the process we allow ourselves to be outperformed by a rat. But there are people with certain types of post-surgical brain impairment-called a split brain-that precludes the right and left hemispheres of the brain from communicating with each other. If the probability experiment is performed on these patients such that they see the colored light or card with only their left eye and employ only their left hand to signal their predictions, it amounts to an experiment on the right side of the brain. But if the experiment is performed so as to involve only their right eye and right hand, it is an experiment on the left brain. When researchers performed those experiments, they found that-in the same patients-the right hemisphere always chose to guess the more frequent color and the left hemisphere always tried to guess the pattern.  

Making wise assessments and choices in the face of uncertainty is a rare skill. But like any skill, it can be improved with experience. In the pages that follow, I will examine the role of chance in the world around us, the ideas that have been developed over the centuries to help us understand that role, and the factors that often lead us astray. The British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell wrote,  

We all start from "naive realism," i.e., the doctrine that things are what they seem. We think that grass is green, that stones are hard, and that snow is cold. But physics assures us that the greenness of grass, the hardness of stones, and the coldness of snow are not the greenness of grass, the hardness of stones, and the coldness of snow that we know in our own experience, but something very different. In what follows we will peer at life through the eyepiece of randomness and see that many of the events of our lives, too, are not quite what they seem but rather something very different.  


In 2002 the Nobel committee awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics to a scientist named Daniel Kahneman. Economists do all sorts of things these days-they explain why teachers are paid so little, why football teams are worth so much, and why bodily functions help set a limit on the size of hog farms (a hog excretes three to five times as much as a human, so a farm with thousands of hogs on it often produces more waste than the neighboring cities). Despite all the great research generated by economists, the 2002 Nobel Prize was notable because Kahneman is not an economist. He is a psychologist, and for decades, with the late Amos Tversky, Kahneman studied and clarified the kinds of misperceptions of randomness that fuel many of the common fallacies I will talk about in this book.  

The greatest challenge in understanding the role of randomness in life is that although the basic principles of randomness arise from everyday logic, many of the consequences that follow from those principles prove counterintuitive. Kahneman and Tversky''s studies were themselves spurred by a random event. In the mid-1960s, Kahneman, then a junior psychology professor at Hebrew University, agreed to perform a rather unexciting chore: lecturing to a group of Israeli air force flight instructors on the conventional wisdom of behavior modification and its application to the psychology of flight training. Kahneman drove home the point that rewarding positive behavior works but punishing mistakes does not. One of his students interrupted, voicing an opinion that would lead Kahneman to an epiphany and guide his research for decades.  

"I''ve often praised people warmly for beautifully executed maneuvers, and the next time they always do worse," the flight instructor said. "And I''ve screamed at people for badly executed maneuvers, and by and large the next time they improve. Don''t tell me that reward works and punishment doesn''t work. My experience contradicts it." The other flight instructors agreed. To Kahneman the flight instructors'' experiences rang true. On the other hand, Kahneman believed in the animal experiments that demonstrated that reward works better than punishment. He ruminated on this apparent paradox. And then it struck him: the screaming preceded the improvement, but contrary to appearances it did not cause it.  

How can that be? The answer lies in a phenomenon called regression toward the mean. That is, in any series of random events an extraordinary event is most likely to be followed, due purely to chance, by a more ordinary one. Here is how it works: The student pilots all had a certain personal ability to fly fighter planes. Raising their skill level involved many factors and required extensive practice, so although their skill was slowly improving through flight training, the change wouldn''t be noticeable from one maneuver to the next. Any especially good or especially poor performance was thus mostly a matter of luck. So if a pilot made an exceptionally good landing-one far above his normal level of performance-then the odds would be good that he would perform closer to his norm-that is, worse-the next day. And if his instructor had praised him, it would appear that the praise had done no good. But if a pilot made an exceptionally bad landing-running the plane off the end of the runway and into the vat of corn chowder in the base cafeteria-then the odds would be good that the next day he would perform closer to his norm-that is, better. And if his instructor had a habit of screaming "you clumsy ape" when a student performed poorly, it would appear that his criticism did some good. In this way an apparent pattern would emerge: student performs well, praise does no good; student performs poorly, instructor compares student to lower primate at high volume, student improves. The instructors in Kahneman''s class had concluded from such experiences that their screaming was a powerful educational tool. In reality it made no difference at all.  

This error in intuition spurred Kahneman''s thinking. He wondered, are such misconceptions universal? Do we, like the flight instructors, believe that harsh criticism improves our children''s behavior or our employees'' performance? Do we make other misjudgments when faced with uncertainty? Kahneman knew that human beings, by necessity, employ certain strategies to reduce the complexity of tasks of judgment and that intuition about probabilities plays an important part in that process. Will you feel sick after eating that luscious-looking seviche tostada from the street vendor? You don''t consciously recall all the comparable food stands you''ve patronized, count the number of times you''ve spent the following night guzzling Pepto-Bismol, and come up with a numerical estimate. You let your intuition do the work. But research in the 1950s and early ''60s indicated that people''s intuition about randomness fails them in such situations. How widespread, Kahneman wondered, was this misunderstanding of uncertainty? And what are its implications for human decision making? A few years passed, and Kahneman invited a fellow junior professor, Amos Tversky, to give a guest lecture at one of his seminars. Later, at lunch, Kahneman mentioned his developing ideas to Tversky. Over the next thirty years, Tversky and Kahneman found that even among sophisticated subjects, when it came to random processes-whether in military or sports situations, business quandaries, or medical questions-people''s beliefs and intuition very often let them down.  

Suppose four publishers have rejected the manuscript for your thriller about love, war, and global warming. Your intuition and the bad feeling in the pit of your stomach might say that the rejections by all those publishing experts mean your manuscript is no good. But is your intuition correct? Is your novel unsellable? We all know from experience that if several tosses of a coin come up heads, it doesn''t mean we are tossing a two-headed coin. Could it be that publishing success is so unpredictable that even if our novel is destined for the best-seller list, numerous publishers could miss the point and send those letters that say thanks but no thanks? One book in the 1950s was rejected by publishers, who responded with such comments as "very dull," "a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions," and "even if the work had come to light five years ago, when the subject [World War II] was timely, I don''t see that there would have been a chance for it." That book, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, has sold 30 million copies, making it one of the best-selling books in history. Rejection letters were also sent to Sylvia Plath because "there certainly isn''t enough genuine talent for us to take notice," to George Orwell for Animal Farm because "it is impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.," and to Isaac Bashevis Singer because "it''s Poland and the rich Jews again." Before he hit it big, Tony Hillerman''s agent dumped him, advising that he should "get rid of all that Indian stuff."  

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russell l
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The clever selection of gripping anecdotes will keep me coming back to this book.
Reviewed in the United States on October 19, 2018
“If you want to succeed, double your failure. Even a coin weighted toward failure will sometimes land on success”. The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow illustrates the role of randomness in our lives. Randomness is one of the most dependable forces at work around us.... See more
“If you want to succeed, double your failure. Even a coin weighted toward failure will sometimes land on success”. The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow illustrates the role of randomness in our lives. Randomness is one of the most dependable forces at work around us. This book was captivating from the perspective of a psychology major, but anyone with a basic knowledge of mathematics and probability would benefit from picking up this book. It doesn’t focus on explaining one event, but rather examines wide spread models of randomness’ reach. Our mistakes in logic have impacts from the court system to college football. Mlodinow explains the impact of randomness for the most wealthy to the most impoverished, and reminds us of our biases towards the two. General psychology teaches us that we all look for patterns to understand the randomness in our lives. This book expands on the principle of heuristics, and advises us to appreciate the randomness that affects us positively rather than negatively. The Drunkard''s Walk meshes with our knowledge of Skinner’s pigeons and rats by explaining how our predictable mental processes can so easily fail us.
Leonard Mlodinow explores the predictability of randomness and its impact on the movie industry, college football, and so much more. Success operates on a continuum and regression towards the mean calls for periods of both extreme failure and success. Mlodinow tells us that our inability to understand this continuum results in college coaches fired for less successful seasons and famous movie producers given the boot when their good luck suddenly runs dry. It was discovered later on that first-in-commands have little to do with the success of their respective fields. Our biases and misconceptions can rule our lives unless we account for them. This book address questions like: how can something so obvious be wrong?
Mlodinow explains how our misinterpretation of probabilities have greatly tainted our legal system. Simple mathematical mistakes are “enough to sober up anyone drunk on feelings of cultural superiority”. These mistakes are enough to bring ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ back into question. OJ Simpson’s trial and the Pearl Harbor attacks are re-calculated to show how previous mistakes in logic can seem so obvious in reverse. The clever selection of gripping anecdotes will keep me coming back to this book. Mlodinow proves that it’s possible to win the lottery if we gather enough people together to outsmart the system. He uncovers why the most wealthy people in the world are no smarter than you and me, and he does it with great wit and humor. Overall, he urges us to judge each other by our qualities, and not the results we obtain. This book opened my eyes to the randomness working in my life and all around me. Are my most successful moments pure serendipity? Mlodinow succeeds in taking the ancient logic of philosophers and basic knowledge in mathematics and uses it to disprove most everything I trusted to be grounded in strong rationale. From social physics to prosecutor''s fallacy, it’s hard to see anything the way I used to.
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Reid McCormick
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
always choose the other door...
Reviewed in the United States on December 10, 2020
I hated math in school. It was not the difficulty that repulse, but its utter lack of relevance to me. Beyond simple algebra and geometry, I did not find working with numbers to be that useful. Things began to change when I took a statistics class in college, numbers not... See more
I hated math in school. It was not the difficulty that repulse, but its utter lack of relevance to me. Beyond simple algebra and geometry, I did not find working with numbers to be that useful. Things began to change when I took a statistics class in college, numbers not only began to make sense they became practical.

Since college, I have gained a whole new appreciation for what math can tell us about what the world is and where the world is going (both literally and figuratively). My latest interest in numbers has been in probability. It is amazing how simple probables can be so confusing yet seemingly complicated probables can be so simple.

The Drunkard’s Walk is a good introduction to the world of probability. For example, I have read and learned about the Monty Hall problem for nearly a decade. I have seen it online and in numerous books, however, this is the first book that has helped me understand it fully.

The day I finished this book, I felt like the smartest man alive, like I could go to Las Vegas and sweep the house. However, the next day, I already felt too dumb to understand everything. Probability is simple yet our brains are not naturally wired to act on numbers.

I really enjoyed this book.
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Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Very good book about the history of probabilities ans statistics and the role of randomness in our lifes.
Reviewed in the United States on June 30, 2018
The book is an historical account of the development of two branchs of mathematics: probabilities and statistics. It is very comprehensive, covering a wide range of the subject in details. However, it is not a technical book. The author try to address explain the... See more
The book is an historical account of the development of two branchs of mathematics: probabilities and statistics. It is very comprehensive, covering a wide range of the subject in details. However, it is not a technical book. The author try to address explain the mathematics using simple examples in a narrative form. Being an engineer, I would like to say that probabilities and statistics are not easy subjects. As the author points throughout the book, part of the difficult is due to the fact that both sciences usually produce results that are very counterintuitive. The type of conclusions that clash directly to our expectations. The author did its best to try to address such complexity. But, it still is a difficult book. So, I recommend reading it with time and patience. But, at the end, it is a worth reading, in particular for anyone interested in history of science.
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Michael E. Martin
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Well Organized and Humorous Explanation of Randomness
Reviewed in the United States on April 10, 2015
Math, history, and psychology all wrapped up in an often funny, and consistently well written 220 pages. It definitely falls into the page-turner category, and while there is some math, even the math phobic likely will enjoy it. Ironically, while the book focuses on the... See more
Math, history, and psychology all wrapped up in an often funny, and consistently well written 220 pages. It definitely falls into the page-turner category, and while there is some math, even the math phobic likely will enjoy it. Ironically, while the book focuses on the impact of randomness in world events and our personal lives, it is very well organized. Yet there is no reason why you shouldn''t read the chapters in random order. Sure, there is some carryover from one chapter to the next, but if you read the last chapter first,  you might find yourself even more enlightened.

I found chapter 9 to be particularly enlightening. Randomness is clearly a part of our lives and often is the source of major world events and trends. Most of us know this,  but as the author points out, we try to organize random events so that they make sense and point to a direction. He uses examples of the stock market and the success/failure of new movies and books. There are countless people making a nice living trying to convince us that they see a pattern when in fact there is none. There are many more "hmmph, I didn''t know that" points in the book, but If this is your only learning,  it is a worthwhile use of your time and money.
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Jay
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Right Balance of History, Philosophy, Mathematics and Popular Culture
Reviewed in the United States on September 24, 2017
Although it’s seemingly impossible to discuss this book without drawing parallels to Fooled By Randomness, these books provide a great compliment to each other. This book in particular differs in its scope, traversing many areas outside of finance. It also speaks more... See more
Although it’s seemingly impossible to discuss this book without drawing parallels to Fooled By Randomness, these books provide a great compliment to each other. This book in particular differs in its scope, traversing many areas outside of finance. It also speaks more directly to the reader, explaining the mathematics of probability by breaking down the mathematics (in contrast to Taleb who speaks more through analogies and metaphors).

The writer explains concepts clearly, and explores the role (and misunderstandings of) probably in Hollywood, the board room, the courts, and why the Greek''s, despite their immense mathematical contributions had no understanding – and a great skepticism of – probability.

This book contains just the right balance of history, philosophy, mathematics, popular culture (Monty Hall problem, etc), and it’s accessible to all. If you’re on the fence about it, look at the Table of Contents for some inspiration.
7 people found this helpful
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fsma
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent introduction on randomness and how chance plays a major role in our life
Reviewed in the United States on March 14, 2015
I have read Mlodinow''s book "Subliminal" and this is his second book I just completed. He has an unique way of using stories to describe the principles of randomness - starting from simple probability and going further to conditional probability. He''s right that... See more
I have read Mlodinow''s book "Subliminal" and this is his second book I just completed. He has an unique way of using stories to describe the principles of randomness - starting from simple probability and going further to conditional probability. He''s right that while the maths involved may not be too complex, even academics often get it wrong when posed with a question linked to probability and randomness. We often attributed certain qualities as the definitive reason for success or failure (e.g. CEO credentials, star athletes, stock picking experts) while chance plays a major role in the outcome.

The key takeaway to me is his paragraph in the last chapter - that by not giving up, we''re able to increase the probability of success since it''s under our control!

What I’ve learned, above all, is to keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized. For even a coin weighted toward failure will sometimes land on success. Or as the IBM pioneer Thomas Watson said, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.”
6 people found this helpful
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Andrew Kim
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Good presetation of complex subject in very intresting and lucid writing style.
Reviewed in the United States on July 17, 2018
Very intresting and intriguing read. The content require some moments of comtemplation. There are some mathmatical ideas that require few minutes to mull over to comprehend, after all this is a book on probability and randomness. I did enjoy the presentation... See more
Very intresting and intriguing read. The content require some moments of comtemplation. There are some
mathmatical ideas that require few minutes to mull over to comprehend, after all this is a book on
probability and randomness. I did enjoy the presentation which are as easy as one can write it. I commend
Leonard Mlodinow for bringing the relatively complex subject to layman level of description.

This book is worth reading, albeit short.
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TBV
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Randomness rules
Reviewed in the United States on September 17, 2016
A great read, perhaps because the message coincides so well with my own outlook on life: life is random and ruled by uncertainties that are beyond our control, although I continue to make plans because the only way to live is to pretend that you know what will happen... See more
A great read, perhaps because the message coincides so well with my own outlook on life: life is random and ruled by uncertainties that are beyond our control, although I continue to make plans because the only way to live is to pretend that you know what will happen tomorrow, next week or a year from now, despite the fact that you have no idea what will happen when you turn the next street corner.

If this is how you feel, this book will explain why you are right, and if it is not how you feel, it might well change your mind. And even if it doesn''t, it is an engrossing read, because it makes it clear how randomness, uncertainty and chance play a greater role in our lives than is generally recognized.
8 people found this helpful
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Eff
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Somewhat boring, somewhat low-level, and somewhat misleading title
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 6, 2018
The subtitle of this book is ''How Randomness Rules Our Lives.'' I expected a book delving into all the random elements that affects us and makes us who we are. Only the literal last chapter slightly touches this. Instead I got more of a history book of the development of...See more
The subtitle of this book is ''How Randomness Rules Our Lives.'' I expected a book delving into all the random elements that affects us and makes us who we are. Only the literal last chapter slightly touches this. Instead I got more of a history book of the development of probability theory, mixed in with a few anecdotes involving randomness. I''m already trained in mathematics, so there was close to nothing new for me to learn in this book. I know of the standard ways in which we can misinterpret randomness. I know of the normal distribution. I know of the Monty Hall ''paradox.'' Perhaps I''m too critical, since the book is intended for the lay audience. The statistics and probability theory presented are very basic and yet he takes quite a while to get through them. This book is not terrible. It''s just not that good, either. I wouldn''t recommend it to anyone who already knows a fair bit about probability, randomness and psychology. If you don''t, then it may be an okay book. But there are other books about randomness that I would recommend before this one.
11 people found this helpful
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Tony Howard
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Didn''t work for me - disappointing
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 27, 2016
I am all in favour of popular science books - I have earned my living as a mathematician for most of my life, but I appreciate a broad view, and am not sniffy about being talked down to, if necessary. I was disappointed in this book. There is some interesting stuff in...See more
I am all in favour of popular science books - I have earned my living as a mathematician for most of my life, but I appreciate a broad view, and am not sniffy about being talked down to, if necessary. I was disappointed in this book. There is some interesting stuff in there, but there are far too many anecdotes, many of them adding very little insight, and the attempts to liven it up with humour left me cold. This is not a very short volume, and it deals with some fairly basic principles, albeit repeated in different ways again and again - it just about reaches the ideas of standard deviation and variance by the end. If this book has helped a lot of readers then I am all for it, but to me it seems to cover too little ground, in too longwinded a manner. I would hesitate to book Dr Mlodinow as an after-dinner speaker...
6 people found this helpful
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Mr. Leslie O. Green
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A good read about an important subject
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 10, 2012
I read this book after having reads Taleb''s Fooled By Randomness and the Black Swan. You might therefore suppose that I had already read everything there was to know about the subject. And yet The Drunkard''s Walk is a very different book, presenting a very standard view...See more
I read this book after having reads Taleb''s Fooled By Randomness and the Black Swan. You might therefore suppose that I had already read everything there was to know about the subject. And yet The Drunkard''s Walk is a very different book, presenting a very standard view (unlike Taleb''s) in a very readable style, with plenty more to offer. The author has made the material accessible to anyone by including no mathematical details or formulae, not even in an Appendix, but it is very well written and researched, with a vast array of real life situations and experimental data referenced. I feel that anyone could understand, enjoy and benefit from this work, regardless of their background. Given that both this book and Fooled by Randomness are from the same publisher, and printed by the same uk printers, it is disappointing that this book (unlike Fooled by Randomness) does not have a laminated cover. This means the book is more susceptible to water damage and stains for the sake of a few pennies.
3 people found this helpful
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k
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
If you want a textbook, look elsewhere
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 31, 2014
I have seen the odd review or two which criticise Mlodinow for his lack of "mathematical maturity" . As a previous reviewer has pointed out, there is an obvious trade off between maintaining rigor and providing a book which is easily accessible. The latter approach...See more
I have seen the odd review or two which criticise Mlodinow for his lack of "mathematical maturity" . As a previous reviewer has pointed out, there is an obvious trade off between maintaining rigor and providing a book which is easily accessible. The latter approach characterises the essence of this book, it is a book for the average reader who does not have much or any prior knowledge of the topics discussed. If anything, this book is a history of randomness, designed to whet your appetite. Mlodinow does a good job of illustrating the very counter intuitive nature of probability and why we aren''t hardwired to understand it. From the stock market to Hollywood, we habitually underestimate the effects of randomness. If you want to see the mathematics behind stochastic processes, look elsewhere. If you would like a non-technical introduction to the concept of randomness, look no further.
6 people found this helpful
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Ahmed Karim Lameer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Opens your eyes
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 11, 2013
After reading certain books, the way you see the world changes. This book is one of them. It shows how your life if a result of random processes. You may have an illusion of control over it but this is just a mental construct. You had no control over where you are right...See more
After reading certain books, the way you see the world changes. This book is one of them. It shows how your life if a result of random processes. You may have an illusion of control over it but this is just a mental construct. You had no control over where you are right now, the job you are doing or the people you are with. They are just a result or chance. A roll of the dice. Another interesting thing I got out of it is how we wrongly assign worth to people who have largely nothing much to do with their successes. We think if a person is successful that they are intelligent in all aspects of life. But given enough people, through chance alone there will be the wildly successful who were in the right place at the right time. And if you were to run the simulation again there would be different Bill Gates and Steven Kings so even you would be a legend in some of the possible universes.
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