Matt's Reviews > The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century

The Lady Tasting Tea by David Salsburg
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M_50x66
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Mar 10, 12

Read in March, 2012

I struggled with this book-- thirty or so fairly small chapters centered around different figures who contributed to the rise of modern statistics as a field in the twentieth century. I don't quite know how much of the problem was me and how much is the book, but it was strange-- I finished the book, but I'm a little surprised by that.

I think part of my problem mifght've been misreading the premise-- I wanted a book that would tell me what statistics is and how to do it, at least in a very basic way, but that's not this book. There's a lot of statistics in this book-- including the introduction of lots of terms, some of which are distinct to statistics (p-values) and some of which aren't (robust) but the terms are almost never defined, and the math is kept, for the most part, out of the book. Instead, we are confronted with a problem-- how can statistics help the targeting of army cannons in WW2. And then we're told which statistical thinker figured it out. But how? That is not the purview of the book.

Instead, each chapter tells the often slightly witty biography of a mathematician, usually revealing that the world is an ironic, strange place. This statistician seems something in numbers other people don't see, and are able, therefore, to overcome a problem that frustrates others. Then, it's time for another chapter.

The orientation is very much applied, and seems, to the degree its possible, not all that interested in the abstractions of math. Salsburg makes a convincing case that statistics have expanded from a niche field at the turn of the century to having very wide applications at the end of it. But what all that means, or how it's done, is under-reported here. I really wished the book had challenged me more in terms of the math it asked me to follow.
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Almir Ribeiro For your purposes definitely this is not the book you are looking for, It's great for those who study statistics after reading your classes never will be the same.


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