Steady!

The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow

An ace book on probability and statistics, relating the theory to the effects we see in our normal lives.

Just how confident can we be that a fund manager who has achieved above average results for a couple of years didn’t just get these results due to the normal run of random events? If an HIV test comes back positive, what does that really tell us about the chance of us dying in the next ten years?

The book is really well written, drawing the reader in with historical anecdotes about the discovery of various parts of probability theory which gives a great setting for the explanations. There are loads of interesting questions. For example, in the Bayes’ theorem section, the author presents the difference in probability between having two girls in a family in the situations where you know the family has two children and one of them is a girl (1/3) and where you know the family has two children and one of them is a girl named Florida (1/2). Simple puzzles like this keep the reader interested, and the many interesting observations on sampling and the human inclination to find patterns where there are none, make this a really good book.

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