Taka's Reviews > The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow
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Jan 05, 12

bookshelves: 2-nonfiction-you-must-read, iu-fall-2011, popular-science
Read from December 22, 2011 to January 05, 2012


This book made me admire what modern statistics—a topic I couldn't care less—is capable of doing and convinced me, like Taleb's The Black Swan and Burton Malkiel's Random Walk Down Wall Street how randomness really rules our lives and it's important to recognize chance events and not mistakenly assign them some causality that's not there. The history of probability theory and statistics Mlodinow tells in this book is nothing short of fascinating, and I was floored by the answers to some of the problems he so deftly presents.

For example:

1) there are three doors. Behind one of them is a treasure, and behind two are geese. You pick a door. The host of the show opens one of the doors you've picked and show geese behind it. Is it better to switch your choice?

The answer: yes. You will increase your probability of winning from 1/3 to 2/3. Why? Read the book to find out why.

2) The Attorney's Fallacy. Take the O.J. Simpson trial. The prosecutor argued O.J. Simpson was an abusive husband. The defense attorney Alan Dershowitz then argued that the probability of an abusive husband killing his wife is so low, the prosecutor's argument for O.J.'s propensity for violence is misguided. In more detail:

4 million women are battered annually by their husbands and boyfriends in the U.S.
Yet in 1992, a total of 1,432 women (or 1 in 2,500) were killed by their husbands or boyfriends.
Therefore, few men who beat their wives or girlfriends go on to murder them.

Convincing, but that's not the relevant probability. The relevant probability is rather: the probability that a battered wife who was murdered is murdered by her abuser. And of all the battered women murdered in 1993 in the U.S.some 90% were killed by their abuser.

Then there's the reassuring implication that success comes to you largely by random—publication, prizes, business success, fame, etc.—and that means the longer we persevere, the better our odds are of succeeding. As an aspiring writer, this non-deterministic paradigm of looking at the world has helped me boost my confidence and determination.

A must-read.

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Comments (showing 1-3)

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message 3: by Soo (new) - added it

Soo Ha! I can always count on you to point me towards books I wouldn't have looked at on my own. ;)

Taka I live to serve, Soo :)

message 1: by sanshow (new) - added it

sanshow You have some very interesting non-fiction reads and I'd love to see what you're reading or recommending next. I was quite fascinated by randomness after Taleb's books and this one would be on my to-buy-list. Thanks for the convincing review!

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