This was an enjoyable romp through the history of probability and statistics. It was written to entertain and pique interest in these subjects. It is not meant to be comprehensive or didactic. Instead, it was an enjoyable read. I learned some things and was immensely entertained. Mlodinow spiced the book with personal observations which enhanced my pleasure in reading the book. Very enjoyable.
I was impressed by how he brought some characters to life. The biographical bits about Pascal and Cardano were excellent, very graphic. The interspersions of personal biography and how the randomness of fate had dealt blows to his family made the book memorable. Mladinow really hammers home the point that we are in the hands of a random fate.
You don't have to love mathematics or even know a great deal of mathematics to enjoy this book. Mladinow can write. (Obviously since he has had success with his Hollywood screenplays.) This book is an excellent glimpse into the role of mathematics in our science and our civilization. This is an excellent book to help bridge the gap of Snow's The Two Cultures.
I especially enjoyed the last chapter where he explores how randomness affects our lives. There are two points that stay with me.
- First, he points out the the future is hard to discern because randomness creates so many possibilities that it quickly becomes too fuzzy to discern. The past, on the other hand, is easily understood because we can focus on the connections. This creates the apparant paradox that great historic events look inevitable is we peer back in time and are not at all apparent if we peer forward in time. He highlights this with the historical examples of WWII's bombing of Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attack.
- Second, he looks at some scientific research that shows how apparant success colours our perceptions. We all fall under the aura of Bill Gate's genius once we know he is the richest man in the world. We all can see the obvious acting talent of Bruce Willis once he is a Hollywood star. But as Mlodinow points out (with corroborating scientific experiments), these judgements are "obvious" when we look post facto. Before their success, Willis and Gates were just two more wannabes trying to make it. There is an important life lesson in this for us: enjoy our success but recognize that fate plays a rather large role.