Synopses & Reviews
In The Improbability Principle, the renowned statistician David J. Hand argues that extraordinarily rare events are anything but. In fact, theyre commonplace. Not only that, we should all expect to experience a miracle roughly once every month.
But Hand is no believer in superstitions, prophecies, or the paranormal. His definition of “miracle” is thoroughly rational. No mystical or supernatural explanation is necessary to understand why someone is lucky enough to win the lottery twice, or is destined to be hit by lightning three times and still survive. All we need, Hand argues, is a firm grounding in a powerful set of laws: the laws of inevitability, of truly large numbers, of selection, of the probability lever, and of near enough.
Together, these constitute Hands groundbreaking Improbability Principle. And together, they explain why we should not be so surprised to bump into a friend in a foreign country, or to come across the same unfamiliar word four times in one day. Hand wrestles with seemingly less explicable questions as well: what the Bible and Shakespeare have in common, why financial crashes are par for the course, and why lightning does strike the same place (and the same person) twice. Along the way, he teaches us how to use the Improbability Principle in our own lives—including how to cash in at a casino and how to recognize when a medicine is truly effective.
An irresistible adventure into the laws behind “chance” moments and a trusty guide for understanding the world and universe we live in, The Improbability Principle will transform how you think about serendipity and luck, whether its in the world of business and finance or youre merely sitting in your backyard, tossing a ball into the air and wondering where it will land.
"Winning the lottery or being struck by lightning is rare but not impossible, so when it happens repeatedly to the same individual, it seems miraculous. Not so, writes Hand, emeritus professor of mathematics at Imperial College, London (Statistics: A Very Short Introduction), in this ingenious introduction to probability that mixes counterintuitive anecdotes with easily digestible doses of statistics. Thus, through the 'law of truly large numbers,' he reveals that, among the billions of events we experience throughout our lives, outrageous ones are bound to occur. Meanwhile, the 'law of selection' reveals how probabilities can be made to appear artificially high due to selecting criteria after an event. In other words, it generates miracles from otherwise routine events. And everyone has nightmares ending in disaster: historians have marveled at Lincoln's pre-assassination dream. Similarly, according to pyramidologists, combining dimensions of the Great Pyramid of Giza produces amazing predictions or coded messages; the pyramid itself is huge and irregular, giving the examiner leeway in choosing the numbers. But it's the 'law of near-enough' that guarantees such spectacular connections. Hand offers much food for thought, and readers willing to handle some simple mathematics will find this a delightful addition to the 'why people believe weird things' genre. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Praise for Statistics: A Very Short Introduction
“The best simple introduction to statistics I've come across.” —Brian Clegg, popularscience.co.uk
Praise for Information Generation: How Data Rules Our World
“Sprightly writing and wide-ranging historical allusions make this book a delight to read.” —Toronto Star
“Human beings are a superstitious lot; we see patterns everywhere. But as Hand makes clear in this enlightening book, it all comes down to the math.”
—Jennifer Ouellette, The New York Times Book Review
“Very engaging . . . If you wish to read about how probability theory can help us understand the apparent hot hand in a basketball game, superstitions in gambling and sports, prophecies, parapsychology and the paranormal, holes in one, multiple lottery winners, and much more, this is a book you will enjoy. I will go further. The statistician Samuel S. Wilks (paraphrasing H.G. Wells) said that ‘statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write. With that laudable goal in mind, The Improbability Principle should be, in all probability, required reading for us all.”
—John A. Adam, The Washington Post
"[A] lucid overview of the mathematics of chance and the psychological phenomena that can make probability seem counter-intuitive to so many . . . Hand has written a superlative introduction to critical thinking, accessible to everybody, regardless of mathematical ability."
"[An] ingenious introduction to probability that mixes counterintuitive anecdotes with easily digestible doses of statistics . . . Hand offers much food for thought, and readers willing to handle some simple mathematics will find this a delightful addition to the 'why people believe weird things' genre."
"Lively and lucid . . . An intensely useful (as well as a remarkably entertaining) book . . . It can transform the way you read the newspaper, thats for sure."
"[Hand] leads readers through this unfamiliar land of probability and statistics with wit and charm, all the while explaining in layman's terms the laws that govern it . . . We predict there's a very good chance you'll enjoy this book"
"Enlightening and entertaining . . . an erudite but utterly unpretentious guide . . . ably and assuredly demystifies an ordinarily intimidating subject"
“In my experience, it is very rare to find a book that is both erudite and entertaining. Yet The Improbability Principle is such a book. Surely this cannot be due to chance alone!”
—Hal R. Varian, chief economist at Google and professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley
“Considering that The Improbability Principle comes from the keyboard of David J. Hand, it was perhaps inevitable that it would be a certain winner!”
—John Pullinger, president of the Royal Statistical Society
“Written by one of the worlds preeminent statisticians, The Improbability Principle provides you with a sense of what chance and improbability really mean, and engenders an understanding that uncertainty rests at the core of nature. I highly recommend this book.”
—Joseph M. Hilbe , president of the International Astrostatistics Association and ambassador for the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology
“As someone who happened to meet his future wife on a plane, on an airline he rarely flew, I wholeheartedly endorse David J. Hands fascinating guide to improbability, a subject that affects the lives of us all, yet until now has lacked a coherent exposition of its underlying principles.”
—Gordon Woo, catastrophist at Risk Management Solutions and author of Calculating Catastrophe
“The Improbability Principle is an elegant, astoundingly clear, and enjoyable combination of subtle statistical thinking and real-world events. David J. Hand really does explain why ‘surprising things will happen and why statistics matters.”
—Andrew Dilnot, coauthor of The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life
In The Improbability Principle
, the renowned statistician David J. Hand unveils his groundbreaking argument that extraordinarily rare events are in fact commonplace. Weaving together fascinating new ways to think about chance, Hand highlights his “law of near enough,” the “look elsewhere effect,” and more, doing for probability what Newtons laws of motion did for mechanics.
Through humorous and engaging tales of two-time lottery winners, gambling gone wrong, and bizarre coincidences that we cant quite fathom, Hand argues that extremely unlikely events must happen, and no mystical or supernatural explanation is necessary to understand why. His investigation, grounded in statistics and brought to life with fascinating anecdotes, finally explains “unexplainable” events such as unexpectedly bumping into a friend in a foreign country and coming across an unfamiliar word twice in one day. Along the way, we learn what the Bible and Shakespeare have in common, how to win the lottery, why financial crashes are par for the course, and why lightning does strike the same place (and the same person) more than once. As Hand makes clear, we can rest assured that well experience a “miracle” roughly once per month.
An irresistible adventure into the laws behind chance moments, The Improbability Principle transforms how we think about business decisions, everyday encounters, serendipity, and luck.
About the Author
David J. Hand is an emeritus professor of mathematics and a senior research investigator at Imperial College London. He is the former president of the Royal Statistical Society and the chief scientific adviser to Winton Capital Management, one of Europes most successful algorithmic-trading hedge funds. He is the author of seven books, including The Information Generation: How Data Rules Our World and Statistics: A Very Short Introduction, and has published more than three hundred scientific papers. Hand lives in London, England.