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Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk
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Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  7,942 Ratings  ·  290 Reviews
With the stock market breaking records almost daily, leaving longtime market analysts shaking their heads and revising their forecasts, a study of the concept of risk seems quite timely. Peter Bernstein has written a comprehensive history of man's efforts to understand risk and probability, beginning with early gamblers in ancient Greece, continuing through the 17th-centur ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published August 31st 1998 by Wiley (first published 1996)
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Michael Quinn
Apr 16, 2013 Michael Quinn rated it it was ok
Unfortunately, Bernstein just isn't a very strong writer. This is visible from the very beginning in his word choice and his many slips into generalization. He is very prone to hyperbole and "dressing up" relatively meaningless statements with strained poetic language. For readers, it can often be groan-inducing.

Take Bernstein's introduction, for example:

"The revolutionary idea that defines the boundary between modern times and the past is the mastery of risk: the notion that the future is more
...more
Supratim
Apr 25, 2016 Supratim rated it liked it
Shelves: business, non-fiction
I had started the book with very high expectations but unfortunately, I am disappointed for the most part.

I have to say that the title of the book is not totally compatible with the content. “Against The Gods” gives the impression that the book would illustrate how human beings overcame their superstitions and prejudices, and opposed blind faith. The book talks about how the development of mathematics and statistics provided human beings with ways of quantifying risks but it does not talk about
...more
Joseph Devon
Sep 12, 2007 Joseph Devon rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly enjoyed this. It examines the study and the notion of risk throughout...well throughout forever. A lot of the reviews make this out to be chock full of math, but speaking as a very non-math person I found it perfectly accessible.
The author has a nice way of mixing background color and the personalities of the various people he discusses in with the overall examination of risk. I enjoyed thinking along with notions like why the number zero didn't exist until society had moved forward
...more
Craig
Dec 20, 2014 Craig rated it liked it
This was a pretty good book, and it made a valiant attempt to thread the needle between being a book for math/ stats geeks and normal humans, but I am not sure it made it. I suspect the non-geeks would give up before making it through, and the geeks would make it through, but be disappointed by the lack of depth. As one of the geeks, I did enjoy it. It provided great back story on the development of statistics and the people that did the work. But I found myself wanting more depth. It was a clas ...more
Daniel
Dec 16, 2011 Daniel rated it really liked it
"A and B are playing a fair game of balla. They agree to continue until one has won six rounds. The game atually stops when A has won five and B three. How should the stakes be divided?"

Not until 1654 would an answer to the previous question finally be discovered when the French Lawyer and amateur Mathematician Pierre de Fermat joined forces with the French Mathematician Blaise Pascal. Peter Bernstein's "Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk" traces not only their relationship, but th
...more
Jason ("jcreed")
Jan 26, 2008 Jason ("jcreed") rated it did not like it
A puerile abuse of mathematics, statistics, biography, and history, badly paced and full of pointless and likely apocryphal anecdotes. Religious awe for Gaussian distributions appearing in nature makes me wonder if the author has ever heard of the fucking central limit theorem. Something like a version of "how to win friends and influence people" for economists or day traders or something, except it won't even make you feel good about humanity.
Siby
Jul 10, 2013 Siby rated it liked it
Risk is inherent to any activity and uncertainty is all prevalent. Today, we have comlpex mathematical and statistical models to help us quantify and assess risk, but this was not always the case. This book tells the story of how modern Risk Management evolved with contribution from eminent scientists, statisticians, mathematicians and later, economists. What I really liked about this book is the fact that I was able to place the various names like Bernoulli, Pascal, Fermat, Fibonacci, Da Vinci, ...more
Jessica
Nov 22, 2014 Jessica rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club-reads
I will readily admit that part of my dissatisfaction with this book comes from it being so different than what I thought it was going to be; that is, a story of risk management throughout history. Although, to be fair, I got that idea from the subtitle of the book, so it's not that far-fetched.

No, instead this is a book the first two-thirds of which are a history of probability and forecasting, which, though related to risk, are not the same thing as risk, as evidenced by the author awkwardly sh
...more
Jim Ainsworth
Aug 27, 2013 Jim Ainsworth rated it really liked it
I have heard Peter Bernstein speak and have read a lot of his articles, so I knew I might be in for a tough slog on this one, but the subtitle The Remarkable Story of Risk, got my attention.

Like Bernstein, I spent the majority of my career in financial services (that may be the only similarity between us), so I have always been fascinated with people’s attitudes about risk and money in general. I also wanted to know more about my own proclivities on those matters. Sometimes, I look back in wond
...more
Svetlana
Aug 17, 2014 Svetlana rated it did not like it
This is a strange and infuriatingly confusing book. It is a composite of two parts: the part that describes the historic development of probability and statistics and the part that focuses on modern developments of risk management (20-th century modern). Neither is especially good.
The historical part is mildly interesting. Although it is written haphazardly as a series of anecdotes about famous mathematicians and other important savants, it is good to place names and concepts into some sort of t
...more
Steele Dimmock
Mar 25, 2014 Steele Dimmock rated it it was ok
The Remarkable Story of Risk? More like the history of statistics.
I recommend you have at least univeristy level understanding of stats before you undertake this read.

Some of the book was good, like when the author briefly touched on the golden ratio, insurance through Lloyds of London and derivatives. I felt like the he could have gone deeper in to some of the sections or extrapolate more applications of the newly discovered statistical calculations - ie through analysis of the bell curve and r
...more
Ricardo Viana Vargas
Mar 02, 2013 Ricardo Viana Vargas rated it it was amazing
Shelves: risk-management
For me this is one of the best books if you want to understand risk management. With an intriguing narrative, Peter Bernstein explain the history of risks and all the evolution on the concepts or risk and risk management over the history. It is not a book to "teach" Risk Management but a perfect narrative of the concepts around risks.

Para mim esse é um dos melhores livros se você deseja aprender gerenciamento de riscos. Com uma narrativa intrigante, Peter Bernstein explica a história dos riscos
...more
Jan
Aug 07, 2015 Jan rated it really liked it
Written in fluid prose and with complete mastery of the subjects the author confidently takes you by the hand and escorts you through our struggles to tackle and understand risk from the fairly finite spaces of probabilities to the must more bewildering and elusive domains of uncertainty, irrationality and human behavioural interdependencies. The eventual focus is on the financial world; it could have been great to have seen the discourse expanded to many other domains where risk is a constant c ...more
Brian
Jan 05, 2015 Brian rated it liked it
Shelves: investingfinance
Don't read this book unless you are a professional investment adviser or regularly read investment books for fun in your spare time.
If you happen to meet those criteria, this book will help answer the question: "how well have humans done at trying to predict the future, in order to avoid risky situations?" The book does this by tracing risk management back to the VERY beginning of people trying to understand numbers (interesting history of the number zero) up to the Black-Scholes model of prici
...more
Dave
Nov 13, 2015 Dave rated it liked it
Probably would have been 4 stars if I'd read it a decade ago, but the most key pieces of this were done better by Daniel Kahneman (who Bernstein credits) in Thinking, Fast and Slow years after this work was written. Interesting history of the beginnings of useful societal statistics in England with analysis of death rates, and a cool thought that da Vinci, who only knew Roman numerals, may struggle in a modern day 3rd grade math class. The West owes a great debt to Indian and Arab civilizations ...more
Jase Goldsmith
Mar 14, 2013 Jase Goldsmith rated it really liked it
Mathematics and in particular financial mathematics has been an important part of evolution of the modern economic world.

Out of this, banking was created and trade evolved including the ability to evaluate risk and calculate interest risk which gave rise to modern banking, stock trading, insurance and other mathematically based industries which are the cornerstone of our modern financial structure.

It can be a little dry at times, but skipping the mathematical lessons will not detract from the st
...more
Markt5660
Sep 21, 2013 Markt5660 rated it it was ok
This turned out to be a bit of a slog for me. I enjoyed the first half (which is more of a history of general probability and risk) than the second (which focuses on Wall Street financial tools). I certainly learned some things though.
Velvetink
Interesting so far, a little heavy going in the early chapters for those deficient in math skills but fascinating in the details. Amazed to find that Da Vinci had only 3rd grade math skills.
Douglas O'laughlin
Sep 17, 2015 Douglas O'laughlin rated it it was amazing
Not the best piece ever written, and can be boring at times. The latter half of the book is extremely interesting, and overall I really appreciated the things I learned.
Frank Ashe
Jun 13, 2016 Frank Ashe rated it it was amazing
A brilliant piece of history.
 Δx Δp ≥ ½ ħ
A page turner that you can take to the beach. Very enjoyable.
Nick
Dec 01, 2015 Nick rated it really liked it
Fascinating history of our understanding of probability and assessing risk.
Vincent Li
Jan 01, 2017 Vincent Li rated it it was ok
The book leaves a bit to be desired.

It's a general mathematical history of risk management, but most of the material is rudimentary. The material itself is probably just a basic statistics and finance course stripped of actual formulas. For people really into mathematical history and etymology this book might be more interesting than it was for me. The book starts with the adoption of arabic numerals goes through the basic history of probability and statistics before concluding with finance and
...more
Giovani Facchini
Minha nota está bastante relacionada a expectativa que eu tinha e sobre a primeira metade do livro que me pareceu não muito interessante. O livro foi ok.

Um pouco de história e evolução dos métodos e crenças sobre o risco, matemática e estatística foram abordados. Eu não fiquei muito entusiasmado com o livro, mas acredito que o melhor de tudo pode ser encontrado na parte final (últimos 25%), onde o autor aborda os métodos mais utilizados recentemente e aponta uma quase impossibilidade de obter b
...more
Joe
Dec 17, 2016 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The fundamental reason I think anyone would struggle to give this book 5/5 is that there are two halves which will appeal to different audiences. The first half is largely a history of the development of statistical techniques, while the second half is more oriented towards modern finance and economics. Personally, I really enjoyed the second half; the first half I found mildly interesting but ultimately a bit of a slog. With that said, all is well-written, and the discussion of derivatives is p ...more
Connor Fullam
This may be one of the best non fiction books of all time. Bernstein has a way of connection together mathematics, statistics, insurance, business, finance, the stock market, and psychology via the interwoven story of risk. The heroes presented throughout this book have changed the history of this world. Bernstein was able to present all of this information in a way that followed the simple progression of time, yet was able to delve deep into each aspect of risk. I highly recommend this book to ...more
Kevin
Sep 29, 2015 Kevin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I give this book 3.5 stars. Against the Gods is a chronology of advances in probability, statistics, and the concept of risks from around the year 1000 to around the year 2000. I thought it was interesting context, but thought the book dragged at times. It seemed like it was a book for people who knew the basic concepts – the descriptions weren’t deep enough to really explain them to someone who had not been exposed to them before.
One idea I thought was interesting was how important it was to m
...more
Richard
Dec 02, 2016 Richard rated it really liked it
The mathematical history was fascinating. The underlying philosophy proposed by the author has quite a few uncheck assumptions. Overall, a good read (if you like math and history).
Omar Halabieh
Oct 29, 2011 Omar Halabieh rated it it was amazing
As the title indicates this book narrates the history of Risk and its role in human advancement.

Peter best summarizes the content of the book in his introduction: "this book tells the story of a group of thinkers whose remarkable vision revealed ow to put the future at the service of the present. By showing the world how to understand risk, measure it, and weight its consequences, they converted risk-taking into one of the prime catalysts that drives modern Western society."

The book presents the
...more
Joe
Dec 19, 2016 Joe rated it really liked it
What a great 'math for non-math majors' tome. The opening chapters were very enlightening, in telling the stories of Bournelli, Cardano, Fibonacci and the early Chance pioneers.
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Fantastic Review of Against the Gods 1 30 Sep 22, 2011 09:57PM  
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73751
Founder and President of Peter L. Bernstein, Inc., which he established in 1973 as economic consultants to institutional investors and corporations around the world.

In 1951, after teaching economics at Williams College and a five-year stint in commercial banking, Peter became Chief Executive of a nationally–known investment counsel firm, where he personally managed billions of dollars of individua
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“The information you have is not the information you want. The information you want is not the information you need. The information you need is not the information you can obtain. The information you can obtain costs more than you want to pay” 14 likes
“The word 'risk' derives from the early Italian risicare, which means 'to dare'. In this sense, risk is a choice rather than a fate. The actions we dare to take, which depend on how free we are to make choices, are what the story of risk is all about. And that story helps define what it means to be a human being.” 10 likes
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