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The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

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The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives Cover

ISBN13: 9780307275172
ISBN10: 0307275175
Condition: Standard
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Review-A-Day

"Success, while not independent of worthiness, is largely a random event. As with rolling two dice trying to get a 12, the more you try for it, the greater chance of eventually attaining it. Don't be discouraged by failure; it's statistically part of the process (and usually the likeliest outcome). IBM pioneer Thomas Watson amusingly phrased it, 'If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.' This and many other lessons make The Drunkard's Walk rewarding reading." Doug Brown, Powells.com (Read the entire Powells.com review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

In this irreverent and illuminating book, acclaimed writer and scientist Leonard Mlodinow shows us how randomness, change, and probability reveal a tremendous amount about our daily lives, and how we misunderstand the significance of everything from a casual conversation to a major financial setback. As a result, successes and failures in life are often attributed to clear and obvious cases, when in actuality they are more profoundly influenced by chance.

The rise and fall of your favorite movie star of the most reviled CEO — in fact, of all our destinies — reflects as much as planning and innate abilities. Even the legendary Roger Maris, who beat Babe Ruth's single-season home run record, was in all likelihood not great but just lucky. And it might be shocking to realize that you are twice as likely to be killed in a car accident on your way to buying a lottery ticket than you are to win the lottery.

How could it have happened that a wine was given five out of five stars, the highest rating, in one journal and in another it was called the worst wine of the decade? Mlodinow vividly demonstrates how wine ratings, school grades, political polls, and many other things in daily life are less reliable than we believe. By showing us the true nature of change and revealing the psychological illusions that cause us to misjudge the world around us, Mlodinow gives fresh insight into what is really meaningful and how we can make decisions based on a deeper truth. From the classroom to the courtroom, from financial markets to supermarkets, from the doctor's office to the Oval Office, Mlodinow's insights will intrigue, awe, and inspire.

Offering readers not only a tour of randomness, chance, and probability but also a new way of looking at the world, this original, unexpected journey reminds us that much in our lives is about as predictable as the steps of a stumbling man fresh from a night at the bar.

Review:

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

Review:

"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." Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness

Review:

"A science geek's delight, and useful reading for the inveterate gambler of the house." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"Fast, chatty, very readable, and a fine introduction to ideas that everyone should know." David Berlinski, author of A Tour of the Calculus

Review:

"A wonderfully readable guide to how the mathematical laws of randomness affect our lives." Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time

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

Review:

"Challenges our intuitions about probability and explores how, by understanding randomness, we can better grasp our world." Seed Magazine

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

Review:

“Delightfully entertaining.” Scientific American

Synopsis:

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.

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.

Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1: Peering through the Eyepiece of Randomness

The hidden role of chance . . . when human beings can be outperformed by a rat.

Chapter 2: The Laws of Truths and Half-Truths

The basic principles of probability and how they are abused . . . why a good story is often less likely to be true than a flimsy explanation.

Chapter 3: Finding Your Way through a Space of Possibilities

A framework for thinking about random situations . . . from a gambler in plague-ridden Italy to Lets Make a Deal.

Chapter 4: Tracking the Pathways to Success

How to count the number of ways in which events can happen, and why it matters . . . the mathematical meaning of expectation.

Chapter 5: The Dueling Laws of Large and Small Numbers

The extent to which probabilities are reflected in the results we observe . . . Zenos paradox, the concept of limits, and beating the casino at roulette.

Chapter 6: False Positives and Positive Fallacies

How to adjust expectations in light of past events or new knowledge . . . mistakes in conditional probability from medical screening to the O. J. Simpson trial and the prosecutors fallacy.

Chapter 7: Measurement and the Law of Errors

The meaning and lack of meaning in measurements . . . the bell curve and wine ratings, political polls, grades, and the position of planets.

Chapter 8: The Order in Chaos

How large numbers can wash out the disorder of randomness . . . or why 200,000,000 drivers form a creature of habit.

Chapter 9: Illusions of Patterns and Patterns of Illusion

Why we are often fooled by the regularities in chance events . . . can a million consecutive zeroes or the success of Wall Street gurus be random?

Chapter 10: The Drunkards Walk

Why chance is a more fundamental conception than causality . . . Bruce Willis, Bill Gates, and the normal accident theory of life.

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

writermala, July 14, 2014 (view all comments by writermala)
This book which chronicles the development of and progress of Probability and Statistics is well-written and makes a very complicated subject easy. Mlodinow uses examples and tests from everyday life to illustrate complex subjects and succeeds in getting through to us. An eminently readable book.
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
knewman511, November 6, 2013 (view all comments by knewman511)
The Drunkard's Walk takes you through some startling revelations about how you view your very own life. How does probability and randomness rule? And can you really understand randomness? Although some of the stories as well as the studies are written in nomenclature that most readers, who have maybe never been in the research world or aren't familiar with anatomical terms, another read through and you can understand what's being said.
It's interesting to take your beliefs of what you think randomness is or isn't and see how it unfolds before your eyes. You could be right all along or terribly wrong. That's what makes this such an interesting read; it pertains to life in every way.
This book is a great read. Not one of the easiest to read, but it's educational. Most of all, this book really makes you think.
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
Ronald Scheurer, July 26, 2011 (view all comments by Ronald Scheurer)
BOOK REVIEW

By Ronald Scheurer

The Drunkard’s Walk �" How Randomness Rules Our Lives
Leonard Mlodinow
2008

Statistics is often thought of as a rather dry subject, but actually it can get pretty wet. To many the mathematical part of it may seem like a rainless trip through a group of staid formulas. Ah, but the probabilistic part of it adds that final leap of personal faith one has to make on whether to take or not to take some particular action. Mlodinow explains that statistics are data; that effect usually follows cause, and with enough data, the probability of accurate predictions of future events is a safe game. So you leave the umbrella home and get soaked in the afternoon. Then the sun comes out.

Decision making involves choice among alternatives based on information that may be wrong, right, or purposely deceptive. Mlodinow explains the role that chance plays in choice. Are there usable principles that can minimize making poor decisions when apparent fortuitous situations beg for a leap of faith? Well, maybe; but understanding how randomness affects our daily affairs in ways over which we have no control is called fate.

Enter probability. Toss a coin once. Heads. Again. Heads. Four more times. Heads. Probability for the next toss is 50/50 heads or tails. In a chain of 10,000 tosses, the chances of six heads in a sequence is possible. Who knows? It could land on the edge! Randomness is not short term; it’s long term. And there is no way to tell when that winning streak will occur, nor how long it will last.

Early statistics centered on demographics and economics. Today it is applied to just about everything having over 15 specialties. Being born is a statistic. Being dead is a statistic. But aside from cut and dry data, how information is presented can bias the results of statistical analysis. Mlodinow does an excellent job explaining data collection and its use with examples drawn from history to the present.

The infamous bell curve and where some particular bit of data lies on it can be puzzling. Looking only at the top of the wave, if it is steep, implies one thing, but suppose the wave is spread out over a very wide range and points on the peak of the curve are not much higher than those on the center bottom of the wave?

How are lives affected when totally unrelated people are making decisions that unknown to each one causes them to converge at a single point in time and place? The train accident or massive highway collision involving multiple automobiles and trucks during a snow storm. Each person’s chance decision (a string of random decisions - numbers) placed them at that point.

Randomness rules.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780307275172
Subtitle:
How Randomness Rules Our Lives
Author:
Mlodinow, Leonard
Publisher:
Vintage Books USA
Subject:
Chaotic Behavior in Systems
Subject:
Probability & Statistics - General
Subject:
Life Sciences - General
Subject:
Probabilities
Subject:
Random variables
Subject:
Mathematics-Popular Chaos and Fractals
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage
Publication Date:
20090531
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
272
Dimensions:
8.08x5.06x.78 in. .60 lbs.

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Product details 272 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780307275172 Reviews:
"Review A Day" by , "Success, while not independent of worthiness, is largely a random event. As with rolling two dice trying to get a 12, the more you try for it, the greater chance of eventually attaining it. Don't be discouraged by failure; it's statistically part of the process (and usually the likeliest outcome). IBM pioneer Thomas Watson amusingly phrased it, 'If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.' This and many other lessons make The Drunkard's Walk rewarding reading." (Read the entire Powells.com review)
"Review" by , “Mlodinow is the perfect guy to reveal the ways unrelated elements can relate and connect.”
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "A science geek's delight, and useful reading for the inveterate gambler of the house."
"Review" by , "Fast, chatty, very readable, and a fine introduction to ideas that everyone should know."
"Review" by , "A wonderfully readable guide to how the mathematical laws of randomness affect our lives."
"Review" by , "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)."
"Review" by , "Challenges our intuitions about probability and explores how, by understanding randomness, we can better grasp our world."
"Review" by , “Mlodinow writes in a breezy style, interspersing probabilistic mind-benders with portraits of theorists....The result is a readable crash course in randomness.”
"Review" by , “Delightfully entertaining.”
"Synopsis" by , 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.

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