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The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  11,354 ratings  ·  1,026 reviews
With the born storyteller's command of narrative and imaginative approach, Leonard Mlodinow vividly demonstrates how our lives are profoundly informed by chance and randomness and how everything from wine ratings and corporate success to school grades and political polls are less reliable than we believe.

By showing us the true nature of chance and revealing the psychologic
Paperback, 238 pages
Published May 5th 2009 by Vintage (first published May 13th 2008)
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The Drunkard’s Walk is a book about randomness, a topic that most people, unless they happen to be mathematicians or have a strange fascination with statistics, probably don’t think too much about. As a species, in fact, we generally prefer not to dwell on randomness, but rather to assume that we are in control of much more of our lives than we actually are.

In this new book, physicist Leonard Mlodinow attempts to show why underestimating randomness is really not a good idea. He lays a foundatio
Yes, I was an English major so, yes, I LOVE literature, but my statistics courses were my favorite courses ever. I can't claim to be an expert statistician since I haven't run a chi-square analysis in eons and since I can only remember the phrase "data set" but can't remember how to collect one (kidding), but COME ON! Some of Mlodinow's information is interesting, but much of his logic seems unfounded and certainly begs some sort of question (and often a rather basic one at that). I've only fini ...more
I hadn’t realised I had read this guy before, and remarkably recently. Euclid's Window The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace was a fascinating read and oddly enough, I was even reminded of it as I was reading this one and I still didn’t put two and two together (an appropriate enough metaphor for books on mathematics) until I was well over half way through. They are very similar books – presenting an entire field of mathematics to a non-mathematical audience from an historical ...more
This is a very fun, entertaining book about the myriad ways in which random phenomena affect our lives. There is nothing really new here. As a physicist, I am already well familiar will all of the concepts introduced, concerning probability and statistics. But oh--what a variety of fascinating applications!

I love the story about the "Ask Marilyn" column in Parade Magazine. Marilyn vos Savant holds the record for the world's highest IQ. She discussed the famous "Monty Hall" problem, and got aggra
Steve Bennett
My mom carried a holy card of St. Jude with her at all times. St Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. This book suggests that lost causes and what the public commonly refers to failures may just have had bad luck. Mlodinow demonstrates a lot of what the world chalks up to superior skill or thorough preparation is actually due to randomness. Or as Ecclesiastics states, in perhaps less scientific but more concise terms: "I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or ...more
Even better the second time--

This little book is just so good—not only does it give you just enough math to make you feel curious and satisfied, it tells a ripping good story about probability theory and statistics, providing along the way compelling portraits of the eccentric scientists and mathematicians who contributed to the fields. This time, I wanted to refresh my memory of all the thorny problems probability and statistics give us (we are really, really bad at intuiting probability, as ps
Šīs grāmatas liktenis manā grāmatu plaukta nav apskaužams. Viņai nācās noskatīties, ka viena pēc otras tiek paņemtas citas grāmatas par matemātiku, izlasītas un atliktas atpakaļ. Taču viņai nācās gaidīt savu kārtu veselus sešus garus gadus.

Mūsu dzīve ir pilna ar nejaušiem gadījumiem, varbūtībām un mazvarbūtīgām notikumu sērijām. Tai pat laikā cilvēka prāts absolūti nav piemērots tam, lai galvā analizētu varbūtības teorijas dažādus aspektus. Tā nav nekāda saskaitīšana, kas mums padodas intuitīvi.
Let's suppose you are on Let's Make a Deal with Monte Hall. There are three doors to choose from. Behind the doors are a goat, a can opener, and a new car. You want the new car. You pick door #3. Now Monte Hall says he will trade you door #3 for door #1. First he shows what's behind door #2: a goat. Now should you trade door #3 for door #1 in the hopes of getting a new car? Here are your three choices: (A) Trade because the odds are greater of getting a new car if you trade, (B) Don't trade beca ...more
The weirdest thing about reading this book was the following:
I watched the movie "21" in which a team of college students under the tutelage of a greedy professor make tons of money in Las Vegas by counting cards while playing Black Jack. In one scene of the movie, probabilities are discussed and the professor brings up the scenario of the 3 doors on "Let's Make a Deal" and asks the class if it's better to stick with your first choice of doors AFTER the host reveals one of the doors behind which
Fascinating book ... It was interesting how many people I spoke to about this get very passionate about randomness. Many people think acknowledging randomness is denying God.

The book is a bit chatty, and needs to focus a bit more on errors people make with statistics in their personal lives ... but Mlodinow hit on an essential concept.

I liked this lesson: that successful people are lucky, but that lucky people are persistent, flexible, and brave.
aPriL does feral sometimes
There is a lot that is disturbing in this book. The author discusses in a breezy, easy to understand conversational manner how randomness and chance are behind many human decisions which we believe to be either based on educated guesses or personal skills, as well as how luck functions far more than we know in how things turn out for us.

Briefly, but entertaining all the while, the author discusses famous incidents which illuminate the psychology behind mistaken beliefs of 'winning', discussing,
I'll admit it. I like books by Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Ariely. I liked Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything and Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. I know many consider these books lightweight and pseudointellectual, and that a more incisive critical reader than I am would probably make mincemeat of them. But I find them entertaining and interesting, even if they don't always hold up to critical a ...more
Robert Delikat
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 ...more

If we were all unfeeling iRobots (floor cleaners) who respond to the random encounters in our lives by simply changing direction then the premise of this book is justified, for we would all follow our individual drunkard's walks to whatever probabilistic future awaits us. (view spoiler)

I found this book fascinating. I knew I didn't understand statistics, but I didn't realize how little I understood about randomness and probability. The Monty Hall problem (aka "Let's make a deal", Ch. 3); the effect that naming a girl child "Florida" can have on the probability of having two girls (Bayesian theory, Ch. 6, p. 107); the errors that people consistently make on relative probabilities (see, e.g., p. 36-40). I especially liked the sections on how we tend to find patterns where there ...more
Despite the seemingly highly rated reviews this book has received, I suspect it is more of a case of this book was hard to read which means it must be good that accounts for its ratings rather than any credit to the author's writing.

The Drunkard's walk, despite Mr. Mlodinow's attempts at following Mr. Gladwell's formula, does not succeed in copying Mr. Gladwell's easy to read voice as well. First of all, although the subtitle SAYS "how randomness rules our lives," I actually found the book to be
Tim abraham
this book is great. it takes you through the history of how the statistics and probabilities we understand (or try to understand) today were first proven. It's amazing how probability is just simply not an intuitive thing for the human mind. be prepared for some anecdotes that will leave you scratching your head. Mlodinov examples of human biases are entertaining and thought provoking. Anyone who likes interesting factoids, data, or wants to understand the world better will find this a good read ...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
So this was pretty good. I had it on my to read list for awhile so I may have built it up a bit too much in my mind before getting started though because I kept waiting for the book to "pick up" in some areas. Overall though good read, really enjoyable. A lot of these anecdotes have been used before though. I think he could have come up with a few more unique scenarios. Still it was fun. I have always thought the wine ratings were a bit suss anyway.
Questo è un libro potenzialmente molto interessante ma ho faticato non poco nei numerosi passaggi in cui l'autore affronta le varie casistiche da un punto di vista strettamente matematico e probabilistico. Ho apprezzato molto gli approfondimenti storici di vari fisici e matematici (per citarne alcuni: Cardano, Pascal, Newton), ma ritengo che La passeggiata dell'ubriaco richieda una consistente dose di concentrazione e un minimo interesse per il calcolo matematico... e io purtroppo manco soprattu ...more
Ein richtig gutes Buch für alle die, die sich ein bisschen für Mathematik interessieren, aber in der Schule (so wie ich) spätestens bei der Integralrechnung ausgestiegen sind. Unterhaltsam und anschaulich wird einem vor Augen geführt, wie leicht man sich bei statistischen Fragen oder bei Wahrscheinlichkeiten täuschen oder auch - im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes - verrechnen kann.

Manches wird ein bisschen aufdringlich wiederholt (ok, Lektoren und Weinexperten sind auch nur Menschen), und manches ist
Dec 18, 2011 Aaron rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested chance, gambling, and some interesting math lessons
Overall I'll give it to Leonard Mlodinow for writing a math book that's surprisingly accessible to the general public. Well, maybe it's not exactly a math book, or even a statistics book. But there's a fair amount of each and he did a fine job with keeping it generally light and interesting.

Mlodinow explains that there are basically two definitions of random, and they don't always go together (pp. 84-85). The first is by Charles Sanders Peirce and basically states that a process or method is tr
I have a math background and an interest in the mind and enjoyed reading books like Predictably Irrational and Thinking, Fast and Slow. Given Mlodinow's reputation as a physicist, I expected a reasonably sophisticated presentation, albeit one that did not require a heavy math background. I was prepared for the book to be basic and probably start with the rudiments of probability, but the presentation is SO basic that the title term "drunkard's walk" does not even occur in the book until page 176 ...more
Angus Mcfarlane
This was far froma random walk through the history and application of statistics and probability to ebryday life, although the typos in the last chapters of the kindle version might support the opposite conclusion. Although many of the topics are familiar to late high school/early university maths courses, the history, anecdotal illustrations and examples are woven together to build an enjoyable story of what is generally considered to be a dry topic. Most of the examples are not heavy on the ma ...more
A very good and accessible introduction to probability and randomness. Most people don't appreciate the fact that most of what we see every day is the product of chance. Social scientists are, ironically, sometimes more blind to this fact than others, because we are trained to hunt for patterns, and we therefore tend to find them even if they aren't there. (For anyone who does statistics, one way of thinking about this is that the typical social scientist routinely underestimates the magnitude o ...more
I am, admittedly, completely dense when it comes to mathematics, statistics, and various scientific theoretical discussions, but this book not only made me understand complex (and counterintuitive) analyses about how randomness is a key element in our lives, but Mlodinow's conversational, witty, and lucid discussion absolutely entranced me. This is a fascinating book about a fascinating subject, and even if you don't usually go in for this sort of thing, I really recommend it.
This is an excellent layperson's primer on the mathematics of randomness. Unfortunately, I was reading it just before bed, getting through a page a night before falling asleep. Took me forever to finish, particularly since I needed to reread the passage from the night before (or further back, so I could follow the logic of his statements.

I'm rereading it, but now I have a pavlovian sleep reaction to the text. I may never be able to grasp random now.
Jan 14, 2012 Margie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: PhD candidates whose presentations ALWAYS include formulas
Recommended to Margie by: Liz
Worth reading, and for me it's worth buying. Explains a lot of mathematical theories related to probabilities and chance in clear, friendly language.

I thought it was interesting that he was able to explain things so clearly without using any formulas. Maybe I should recommend it to my students.
Ana Campanha
At first I was going to give it 4 stars. Then I considered how this book affected me and it truly deserved 5 stars. I'm not brilliant whenever I have to deal with statistics (and I do have to work with random/non-random facts since I work with experimental data in a science laboratory) so this was definitely not a piece of cake for me. I had to think many chapters over and sometimes I even had to reread and try to solve the problems myself before accepting what the author was telling me. So you ...more
This is an excellent layman's guide to how random chance dictates various aspects of our lives, and how poorly equipped the human mind is to deal with randomness, even after training. It's also a good primer on various core concepts of statistics and probability, such as combinatorics, confidence intervals, and the central limit theorem.

Mlodinow writes anecdotally, using salient examples from the news and his own life to illustrate how, in every conceivable domain, even intelligent people can't
This is an enjoyable synopsis of basic principles of probability and statistics. Lest that sound like an oxymoron, Mlodinow really does manage to be entertaining while covering such topics as Pascal's triangle, normal distributions, standard deviations, Chi square analysis, Bayesian analysis, and type I and type II statistical errors. He weaves in thought-provoking questions and injects interesting anecdotes about the mathematicians who came up with these ideas. If you are a mathematician, you w ...more
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Science and Inquiry: April 2012 - Drunkard's Walk 36 97 May 25, 2012 10:15PM  
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Leonard Mlodinow is a physicist and author.

Mlodinow was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1959, of parents who were both Holocaust survivors. His father, who spent more than a year in the Buchenwald death camp, had been a leader in the Jewish resistance under Nazi rule in his hometown of Częstochowa, Poland. As a child, Mlodinow was interested in both mathematics and chemistry, and while in high schoo
More about Leonard Mlodinow...
Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior Feynman's Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life Euclid's Window: The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos The Grand Design

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“Perception requires imagination because the data people encounter in their lives are never complete and always equivocal. For example, most people consider that the greatest evidence of an event one can obtain is to see it with their own eyes, and in a court of law little is held in more esteem than eyewitness testimony. Yet if you asked to display for a court a video of the same quality as the unprocessed data catptured on the retina of a human eye, the judge might wonder what you were tryig to put over. For one thing, the view will have a blind spot where the optic nerve attaches to the retina. Moreover, the only part of our field of vision with good resolution is a narrow area of about 1 degree of visual angle around the retina’s center, an area the width of our thumb as it looks when held at arm’s length. Outside that region, resolution drops off sharply. To compensate, we constantly move our eyes to bring the sharper region to bear on different portions of the scene we wish to observe. And so the pattern of raw data sent to the brain is a shaky, badly pixilated picture with a hole in it. Fortunately the brain processes the data, combining input from both eyes, filling in gaps on the assumption that the visual properties of neighboring locations are similar and interpolating. The result - at least until age, injury, disease, or an excess of mai tais takes its toll - is a happy human being suffering from the compelling illusion that his or her vision is sharp and clear.

We also use our imagination and take shortcuts to fill gaps in patterns of nonvisual data. As with visual input, we draw conclusions and make judgments based on uncertain and incomplete information, and we conclude, when we are done analyzing the patterns, that out “picture” is clear and accurate. But is it?”
“The cord that tethers ability to success is both loose and elastic. It is easy to see fine qualities in successful books or to see unpublished manuscripts, inexpensive vodkas, or people struggling in any field as somehow lacking. It is easy to believe that ideas that worked were good ideas, that plans that succeeded were well designed, and that ideas and plans that did not were ill conceived. And it is easy to make heroes out of the most successful and to glance with disdain at the least. But ability does not guarantee achievement, nor is achievement proportional to ability. And so it is important to always keep in mind the other term in the equation—the role of chance…What I’ve learned, above all, is to keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized.” 18 likes
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