This is a very good entry point (or refresher) for statistics. The author obviously invested time in putting together clear and simple examples. More advanced stats people might be disappointed. I like this better than another broad-audience statistics book, "The Signal and the Noise" by Nate Silver. For me, the explanations here are clearer and the concepts flow better.
Some people may be put off by the academic language and many references to history (which a widely-read person will recognize), especially early in the book. For me, my patience was pretty quickly rewarded. Listening to the sample will give a good sense of this. This author is digging through (and mapping out) something absolutely vital: what we see as good, right, wrong, by ourselves and in groups, and then, how we really act in situations that challenge us in these ways. The author takes us through history and all kinds of ways of thought from ancient times through the present (spanning philosophy, various branches of science, folkways and religions, tracing right up into the recent cognitive psychology) showing the sort of grab-bag we use, in arriving at who to be, what to do, and how to react. I find the language to be crackling English prose with an ideally English narrator, but I admit I do have a high verbal IQ and lots of education. If you like to take apart what you and others feel and do, and you like a bigger context in history and various ways of thought, it's ideal.
I have been looking for this book for more than a year: a clear entry point, and survey, of a cluster of ideas within economics, dealing with motives and dynamics within any organization, family group or society, toward cooperation or cheating. This is, to me, the most central concern of society, the greatest burden of any family, company, society, legal system, or deal. It is the central unspoken topic of politics: who are the free riders gaming and thus threatening the system? The rich? The poor? Various terms relate to this: agency problems (the people you hire or trust have motives to cheat), information asymmetry (different players know different things and exploit this); game theory (with various situations illustrating choices to cooperate or defect, such as "the prisoner's dilemma" and "the tragedy of the commons"). This book provides a lucid, carefully assembled, entry point and survey of these kinds of topics. I love a book that maps out and gives names to things I experience every day, that gives me a higher and clearer view and understanding of these things. In my search for this book, I have assembled many more technical books (which quickly leave the plain English discussion for lots of math), and now at last I feel I can have the comprehension to move into these more advanced levels. But this book is fine in itself, for the popular audience. There is much basis for wisdom and better choices here.
Letting the rest of the world go by
The author's survey on early civilizations is worth the cost of the book alone. Societies tend toward more complex organization as they spread their cultural memes. The arc of history tends towards working together by utilizing win-win situations. Constructive coordination defeats the second law of thermodynamics (entropy) for the coordinators. Yes, that's a mouthful, but the author is expert at clearly explaining it all.
The two items needed for economic development, cheap transportation and effective communication, are facilitated by higher population density leading to more growth and technological developments hence an evolving of civilizations.
The book was originally copyrighted over 10 years ago (today is 2012). The book only lost my interest when he was topical and futuristic during about 2 hours of the second half. I was ready to give up and I'm glad I didn't. The book then got really interesting by tying together his major theme on the organization of organic processes. He got into the second law of thermodynamics, and how information and the processing of that information at its core is physical.
His real theme is that cultures evolve by constructive coordination (win-win situations) but he supports that by educating the listener through historical narratives, fine points on economic theory and the importance of information processing for growth.
I enjoyed this book so much I've downloaded his next book, "The Evolution of God".