Family father, neuroscientist, and non-fiction addict.
"To increase your successes, increase your failures"
This was a great book. It had just the right balance of anecdotes, mathematics, scientific studies and history to offer the reader a comprehensive and informative, yet thoroughly enjoyable introduction to the field of randomness. As the author rightly points out, again and again, people are blind when it comes to the role that chance or randomness plays in their lives, which is in fact very big. We tend construct our life narrative around situations where we made a decision that seemed to be crucial, which makes it seem as if we have been in the driving seat for much of our life. Still, most people can come up with seemingly random events that shaped the rest of their life. For example, I would never have met my wife had I not turned down a job one summer 10 years ago and I would not have ended up as a scientist had my grades been good enough to become a psychologist. If you would change just a few minor details in my history, and I might have lived a completely different life today.
Mlodinow begins the book by discussing some real life examples where people often fail to see the underlying mathematical truths. When a company does well, a CEO is rewarded with sometimes ridiculous bonuses, only to be fired the next year because the company suddenly did fare so well. This is the case despite the fact that fluctuations in the market are inescapable. The same is true in the world of sports where managers are frequently fired following dips in form which necessarily occurs if luck is a factor which it always is in sports.
After this introduction Mlodinow goes through the history of probability theory. I was surprised to learn that the Greek really didn’t get probability. They were excellent when it came to mathematical axioms and deducting knowledge, however, they apparently thought uncertainty had no place in maths and therefore ignored the field entirely. More than a thousand years passed before a man began to investigate the rules of probability in the mid 16th century. His name was Cardano and he was, of course, a gambler. With some very elementary knowledge regarding uncertainty, Cardano won lots of money which he used to finance his studies in Medicine.
Mlodinow continuous to move through history, while also making sure that the reader understands the theories that are being developed. Among others one encounters Galileo, Pascal, Bernoulli and Laplace who all worked on probability in different ways. One learns about the normal curve, chaos theory and bayesian statistics. Again, everything is written in an engaging yet simple fashion and I personally felt I learnt a lot even though I have studied statistics at University.
This book also deserves credit for being the first to explain the Monty Hall problem in a way that made me feel I really get it. Imagine you are a contestant on TV show, there are three doors and behind one of them is a car, while the other two doors have goats behind them. You pick one door (that you don’t open), then the TV host open one of the other two doors behind which there is a goat. At this point you have to choose to open the door you picked initially, or switch to the other door. What do you do? Even though more than 90% in polls, as well as thousands of mathematicians, passionately believed that it did not matter whether or not you switched, the correct answer is in fact that you will double your chance of winning if you switch to the other door. As Mlodinow explains you really have to guess which of the following two scenarios you are in:
The door you initially picked was the correct one (chance one third). If you switch you will find a goat.
You initially picked the wrong door (chance two thirds). Since the host will always open a door with a goat the correct one is the one the host did not open and which you did not pick. If you switch you will win.
In other words, if you picked the wrong door initially you will win if you switch and since it is more likely to pick the wrong door than the right door your chances are better if you switch.
In the last part of the book, Mlodinow return to the role that randomness plays in our life. After he has convincingly demonstrated how great this role is he arrives to the question of how one should act in the face of such uncertainty. Given that our successes or failures to a large extent are a result of random events, should we just stop trying? No! Mlodinow eventually arrives at the quote that is the title of my review. If you want to increase your success rate, you should increase your failure rate. Those who succeed in the end tend to be those who try again and again and again i.e. those who throw the dice over and over again will, eventually, end up with a six. Having read this book, I am determined to go out in the world and start failing. Thank you Mlodinow for the inspiration and for this excellent book!
"Never would have thought I'd like a book on math"
As someone who has never liked math or found it particularly applicable to my own daily life, I wish I had read this book a long time ago. Not only did it clarify some of the concepts of probability and statistics that never really made sense to me, it also planted seeds of interest in fields of study I'd never heard of, such as forensic statistics. Mlodinow does a fantastic job of exploring the balance between order and randomness in popular arenas like Hollywood and the sports world, and somehow manages to make the history of these branches of mathematics interesting and humorous. I plan to revisit this book in the future to see whether its lessons will hold a different meaning at a different point in my life and in the world.
"Insightful but fragmented"
The topic generated lots of insights throughout the book. However, listening is quite difficult when you need to visualize mathematical concepts and calculations introduced. The author did his best. The book could have been shorter.
"Good book, but terrible AUDIO book"
I would not suggest this audio book, and would instead suggest you buy the actual book. I'd give the book itself 5 stars, but since I retained less from this book than any other audio book I've ever listened to I have to take some stars off. It's like getting the audio version of a mathbook, it's just not the right way to read it.
It's a very good book; however makes for a pretty terrible audio book. Info is way, way too dense to get much out of the audio alone. (For example, I'm quite familiar with Pascals triangle, but when listening to audio I couldn't make any sense of what he was trying to get across when he was discussing it. I was left very confused, and cannot fathom how someone with less knowledge of it than I would would ever be able to grasp what the audiobook is saying. And I still rewound it several times.)
"Prerequisite reading for statistic"
This book is being sold as a book about randomness -- how our lives are affected by random events... as if we have no control and who knows how our lives will turn out. But really, it's about understanding probability and how our minds create pattern and order sometimes when none exist. Sometimes you can do things that favor your chances if you know what are the factors contribute to improving your chances. There is also a lot of information about the development of these theories and a lot of stories of how those theories are applied. This would be an excellent prerequisite reading assignment for a statistic class.
I'm not much of a reader but I am a great listener. I like to listen to an audiobook before I decide its worth buying the book in print.
"You really need to be in a student mode"
It can be a hard listen but it still has a good message if you can decipher it. Hint its in the main explanation of what the books about. You really need an analytic mind or be in the mood to follow the scientific explanations he gives.
"Go for the "real" book"
I must admit I only listened to half of this - I'm off to order the hard copy to finish it off.
This was very interesting and well presented, however unless you're very clever with maths already you might get a bit confused (as I did!). I like to listen to audio books while I'm doing something else - cleaning, driving, cooking, etc, but I found with this book I needed 100% focus when they got to the nitty-gritty of the calculations. There are loads of good anecdotes for those who already have an interest in this science, but at the same time a good platform for people just getting into it.
Good book, I can't wait to read it!
"A Fun History of Probability"
This book takes the reader through the history of probability theory from the ancient Greeks to the present day. Along the way it points out how very educated modern men and women are often baffled by basic concepts in probability.
The narrative is spiced up by short probability puzzles relevant to the concepts being discovered by innovators in probability theory as the book moves closer to the modern day. It succeeds brilliantly in teaching mathematical concepts in an audio only format. Nevertheless, the interested listener may want to occasionally pause the narrative to solve the puzzles presented on her own.
Longtime Audible enthusiast!
"Interesting"
I found this an enjoyable listen. It was not too obtuse, although there were times I would have preferred to see some of the problems on the written page and I found myself rewinding the audio to listen to certain paragraphs several times.
Yes, it is about probability theory, the history thereof and some current applications, but there is more. The author attempts to humanize the effects of randomness, statistics, accidents of fate by using examples from life, like the OJ trial, Roger Maris' record, Bill Gate's success, etc.
Easy to listen to, not too heavy. You don't have to be a statistics or calculus expert to appreciate this book.
"a bit of a plod"
I should have guessed that listening to Maths is not the way to learn about it! Ideas such as Pascal's triangle are not easily grasped by a spoken description. There is a lot of repetition in this book, concerning the lives of various mathematicians, and how their theories have been read, re-read re worked, and reapplied. Very little of this book was new to me, and I think the title should have read "an introduction to probability theory, with historical references". The populist title used by the author, I don't feel to be a good description of the contents.
Fortunately, I got this book at cut price. I'm glad I didn't pay the original price for it.