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The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives | [Leonard Mlodinow]

The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

In this irreverent and illuminating audiobook, acclaimed writer and scientist Leonard Mlodinow shows us how randomness, chance, 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 causes, when in actuality they are more profoundly influenced by chance.
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Publisher's Summary

In this irreverent and illuminating audiobook, acclaimed writer and scientist Leonard Mlodinow shows us how randomness, chance, 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 causes, when in actuality they are more profoundly influenced by chance.

The rise and fall of your favorite movie star or the most reviled CEO - in fact, all our destinies - reflects chance as much as planning and innate abilities. Even Roger Maris, who beat Babe Ruth's single season home-run record, was in all likelihood not great but just lucky.

How could it have happened that a wine was given five out of five stars by one journal and called the worst wine of the decade by another? 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 chance 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 listeners 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 afresh from a night at a bar.

©2008 Leonard Mlodinow; (P)2008 Gildan Media Corp

What the Critics Say

"A wonderful guide to how the mathematical laws of randomness affect our lives." (Stephen Hawking)
"If you're strong enough to have some of your favorite assumptions challenged, please listen to The Drunkard's Walk....a history, explanation, and exaltation of probability theory....The results are mind-bending." (Fortune)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12 Member Since 2005

    mostly nonfiction listener

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Very Very Smart"

    The author, a physicist at Cal Tech, is among those rare academics who both write beautifully, and can manage to make complex explanations understandable. This book definitely changed how I understand some fundamental aspects of my life and the lives of those around me, as getting a handle on randomness and probability (which again, our brains don't seem to be built easily to accomplish), helps illuminate some of the fundamental errors in judgment that I seem to make all too often.

    20 of 20 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dermot San Rafael, CA, USA 07-16-08
    Dermot San Rafael, CA, USA 07-16-08
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    "You might have to read it twice"

    This is a really great book. A much more in depth and fascinating look at how our lives are governed by chance than any of the recent popular titles that claim to be about the subject. It's read beautifully too with just the right tone of sardonic humour. Some of the ideas did not sink in as I have it on while I am working...I am just going to have to listen to it again

    24 of 25 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stephen Sarasota, FL, United States 08-03-08
    Stephen Sarasota, FL, United States 08-03-08 Member Since 2003
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    "Odds are, you will enjoy this book"

    This is another book that discusses how randomness, or nonrandomness surrounds us and makes the case it might be in our best interest to know when certain events are random and when they are not.

    The book discusses the use and basic principles of probabillity without getting into the mathematical details - although there are 1 or 2 sections where he explains things in some detail (with words, not equations). He also provides a bit of interesting background on the people that developed the concepts. I am a PhD scientist and found this background information delightful and felt it added something to the principles that were discovered.

    There are some very interesting examples that he supplies...for instance, if you are told a family has 2 children and one of them is a girl, what are the odds that the other is a girl...this seems straight forward but what if you are told one of the girls is named 'Florida' -- does that change the odd? The answer is yes - but you need to read the book to find out why...Many other interesting examples and lessons were taught.
    A good book for those who want to know when to attribute the good performance of a company to the CEO or if it's just chance...if you're team is losing, should you change managers? Which is the more effective teaching tool, the carrot or the stick? These any other questions are approached from the view of randomness.

    36 of 38 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 02-21-14
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 02-21-14 Member Since 2009

    Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Interested in statistics? This is the book."

    You’re presented with three doors. Behind one door is a car and behind the other two doors are goats. Sound familiar? It is. You pick door number one. Instead of opening your choice, Monty opens door number two and reveals a goat. He then asks you if you wish to keep what’s behind your original choice (door one) or change your mind to door number three. If you think it makes no difference whether you switch or not and that your odds are 50/50 either way, you might be surprised at the answer and enjoy reading this book. If you are surprised by the answer to this ridiculously simple challenge, you’re in for a plethora of awakenings about the assumptions we make of the numbers and statistics we hear in our daily lives.

    Peppered with charm and wit; wonderfully read by Sean Pratt, I would highly recommend this title to anyone interested in a history of the development of statistics. Books about numbers are especially not easy ones to listen to but Sean Pratt reads this one at just the right pace and with just the right inflections to make listening to and learning from The Drunkard’s Walk totally accessible. I will often read two or three books at a time. This one, however, was just so captivating, it monopolized my complete attention. But then I’m a nerd and that too might be a requirement for truly enjoying this title.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 05-09-12
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 05-09-12 Member Since 2011

    A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.

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    "SOLID Introduction to Randomness"

    Sits on my shelf next to all those other soft-serve pop economics, behavioral economics, science and statistics books (think Freakonomics, SuperFreakonomics, Predicitably Irrational, Gang Leader for a Day & Sway). From my perspective Drunkard's Walk is more coherent in theme and better written than most (the ones I named are all ones I feel are top shelf, pop soft-science). Anyway, a very good narrative introduction to both randomness and statistics.

    17 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    D.W. Hawk 12-14-08
    D.W. Hawk 12-14-08 Member Since 2013
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    "Who Knew Math Could Be Entertaining?"

    I picked this up because it was featured on the Audible home page and I had a couple of extra credits. I was looking for something different to listen to when walking the dog and waiting in airports. I had taken advanced math in high school, but, to be honest, I only excelled in the courses due to an excellent teacher (Thank you, Mrs. Claybrook), and then I stopped doing any kind of real algebra, trig, or calculus. At this point in my life, my brain stops working as soon as I hear numbers being tossed around.

    However, this book dealt with theory and history rather than functions and numbers. In the end, it was a very entertaining listen; chronicling the development of random theory from probability theory. Living in the Vegas area, I found the passages on gambling very engaging and interesting. I'll grant that the subject matter is not one that everyone will embrace, but this "math" book has changed a few notions of this "non-math" person.

    17 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 11-23-13
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 11-23-13 Member Since 2005

    Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.

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    "Don't overlook the unpredictable"

    A better title for this book might be "How Humans Misunderstand Randomness". If you want to feel nervous about an upcoming performance review at work or day in court, Mlodinow can help you do so. Here, he shows how non-intuitive statistics and probability can be, and how people biased by their natural desire to attribute definite causes to events tend to discount the winds of chance. Consider how "brilliant" CEOs are often hired for enormous salaries, then fired a few years later when the company doesn't make the profits expected. But how much control does a typical CEO really have over all the factors that determine a company's near-term success? And consider how obvious the "clues" to Japan's WWII attack on Pearl Harbor looked in hindsight, but how they actually wouldn't have jumped out to analysts among all the other "noise" in the intelligence network. (These themes might be familiar to those who've read Nassim Taleb's book on unpredictability, The Black Swan.)

    On the other hand, when we *do* think about randomness, we often have incorrect expectations about its properties. Gamblers don't always realize that it's not unlikely for a roulette wheel to favor a certain color over many spins, even when the roulette wheel is behaving correctly. Or, think about some of the mistakes the legal system has made. An example is the couple in 1960s Los Angeles who were convicted of an attack on the basis of witness testimony that reported two people with similar appearances and a similar car. The prosecution cited the one-in-a-million odds that the criminals could be anyone else. Yet, they made a few critical mistakes: the variables weren't independent and Los Angeles is a city of multiple millions: the real odds were closer to two-in-three. Yikes.

    The Drunkard's Walk includes, along the way, a compelling history of the science of chance, covering figures such as Pascal, Bayes, Laplace, Brown (of Brownian Motion fame), and Einstein. Though I've studied probability and statistics before, as part of my college coursework, I find them to be fun subjects, and enjoyed the refresher (if not so much the reminders that our legal system is flawed). A bit of a nerdy book, but perfectly engaging.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrew Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada 02-08-09
    Andrew Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada 02-08-09 Member Since 2007
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    "One of those rare excellent books"

    Only a few audiobooks are so good that I'll circle the block continuously at the end of a drive home, unwilling to end the "read" by parking in the driveway. This is one. The material is so good, so well read, and so germane to the current world that it should practically be required (and pleasurable) reading for all.

    15 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    William D. Buck Baton Rouge, LA 07-16-08
    William D. Buck Baton Rouge, LA 07-16-08 Listener Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    13
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    "Good History Lesson!"

    This book is an excellent history lesson into the foundation and principles of probability and statistics. Great applications of randomness including a section on Charles Perrow's Natural Accident Theory which is very well done. Highly recommended for anyone interested in statistics.

    13 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steve Port Jefferson, NY, USA 08-17-08
    Steve Port Jefferson, NY, USA 08-17-08 Member Since 2004
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    "Among the best I have listened to. 10 out of 10"

    If you have ANY interest in events, how and why they happen, and how are (mis)understanding of the forces that shape those events occur then you will LOVE this book!

    17 of 19 people found this review helpful
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  • Jan W. H. Schnupp
    Oxford, England
    6/2/14
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    "The lighter and the darker sides of probability"

    Mathematical subjects can be awfully dry, but in this book the author weaves a highly accessible, enjoyable and enlightening tapestry of the history of mathematical thinking on luck and chance. Thought provoking examples of the counter-intuitive nature of randomness and chance are interwoven with little vignettes of the sometimes surprising episodes of the lives of pioneering probability theorists. Take for example Cardano, who invented probability theory to beat others at dice games in order to pay his way through renaissance medical school. He rose to become chair of the medical school, only to be betrayed to the inquisition by his own incestuous and cruel children who were maneuvering for "cushy" jobs as full time torturers and henchmen. What are the odds of that? Or, indeed, what are the odds that a mother will kill two of her children? Or that OJ Simpson got away with murder? You don't have to die to find out.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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