Synopses & Reviews
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
"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
"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)
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