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The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day

3.7  ·  Rating details ·  1,086 Ratings  ·  132 Reviews
In The Improbability Principle, the renowned statistician David J. Hand argues that extraordinarily rare events are anything but. In fact, they're commonplace. Not only that, we should all expect to experience a miracle roughly once every month.
But Hand is no believer in superstitions, prophecies, or the paranormal. His definition of "miracle" is thoroughly rational. No m
...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published February 17th 2015 by Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published February 11th 2014)
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Atila Iamarino
Excelente livro sobre probabilidade e situações do dia-a-dia. De certa forma, complementar ao O andar do bêbado. Com boas noções e os princípios matemáticos que explicam coincidências extremas, como a lei da improbabilidade, a lei dos números grandes, a lei do próximo o suficiente e outros (tradução porca minha). Com direito a uma viagem pelas chances do surgimento da vida. Leve, fácil de entender e bem explicado, acessível e pensado para ser interessante. Um dos livros mais legais que li esse a ...more
Alexander Kosoris
After making my way through The Improbability Principle, I came to a startling revelation: I really have to stop running out and buying books with positive reviews in MacLean’s. I suppose this very concisely shows my opinion on the book, but allow me to explain myself.

The Improbability Principle has a very interesting concept: offering theories as to why the highly improbable seems to happen all the time. I will grant that Hand’s explanations are very insightful, but getting there proved to be h
...more
Peter Mcloughlin
I am surprised this book has a fairly low rating. I know that it is about statistics but there is not an equation to be found in the book and it is written in a fairly conversational and breezy style and has some interesting stuff on statistics. I enjoyed reading it and it made me look at statistics in a slightly different way than I usually do. I thought it covered a lot of statistical fallacies and mistakes fairly well. I think a person coming away from this book will be a little better able ...more
Avneet
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How miracles, rare events and coincidences happen? Moreover, everyday?
Begin this book by asking questions and by the end you may 'probably' reach an answer. It's not however an answer to what causes those rare events but how those events are not actually improbable. It provides a new perspective and a different direction to look at things and their probabilities - how statistics and numbers can alter situations and view points. David Hand tries to explain Improbability through the various stran
...more
Jeffrey
Oct 26, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
Statistics. Pretty basic with a nice coherent framework to make it understandable and useful. Examples from everyday life depended a bit heavily on throwing dice. I would have liked to see some poker or other games analyzed and used as examples. I deal with examples of poor statistical thinking every day in my medical office. It is my job to help people understand the true risk of treatment versus symptom or disease - often it is not very clear and information from well meaning relatives and fri ...more
Alan Cook
Apr 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the best book on statistics I've ever read, and I've taken several courses on statistics. You can apply the principles to playing the lottery and games of chance (I'm a backgammon player). It will also change your thinking about "coincidences" and improbable events. With enough tries, anything that is possible is likely to happen. (People have won the lottery twice.) And when you investigate deeper, some events might not have been so improbable in the first place. Like the time my wife a ...more
Andrew
Oct 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

It was fun to reflect on this book during the recent furor over the largest Powerball jackpot to date. And I was especially interested in the meme that circulated for a while claiming that the $1.5 billion could make every American a millionaire. For a brief moment, questions of probability, distributions, and statistics entered the American consciousness. And then, with a winner announced, everyone went back to their regularly scheduled programming and statistical illiteracy remained.

Numbers ar
...more
Sameer Alshenawi
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
هناك قوانين للصدف تفسر لماذا تحدث الاشياء المستبعد حدوثها ، و نظرا لان عمل هذه القوانين يتم بشكل معاكس لإدراكنا الفطري للعالم، فنحن نميل الى اعتبار هذه الاشياء معجزات.

ففي عام ١٩٧٢، عندما وقع الممثل انتوني هوبكنز عقد فيلم مبني على رواية فتاة من بتروفوكا ل جي فيفر ، سافر الى لندن لشراء نسخة من الرواية لدراسة دوره ، و لكن لسوء الحظ ، لم توجد الرواية في كافة المكتبات الشهيرة اليت ذهب اليها هوبكنز.
و في طريق عودته الى منزله بالمترو وجد كتابا على المقعد المجاور له . الغريب ان يكون هذا الكتاب هو رواية ف
...more
Privy Trifles
Apr 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, review


One confession before I start the review – I used to hate statistics as a subject in school and college with a madness that only I was aware of. Simply put it was beyond me. That’s it. When I saw this book in the list by Random house I Google-d the book as always and was amazed at what was there in the book.

The probability factor has always fascinated me with it’s could bes and would bes here the author has taken it to an altogether new depths completely. The beauty of such books is that though
...more
Ettore1207
Il titolo è provocatorio, poichè tutti sappiamo che il caso esiste. Il libro tratta in sostanza di teoria delle probabilità, ma senza formule ed in maniera comprensibile a tutti, e con una serie di esempi tratti dalla vita quotidiana o da fatti realmente accaduti. In particolare, come si afferma nella prefazione, ""Questo libro parla di eventi straordinariamente improbabili. Parla delle ragioni per cui accadono cose incredibilmente inverosimili. Di più: parla delle ragioni per cui continuano ad ...more
RJ
Jun 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Improbability Principle leans on principle, anecdote, and mathematics to underscore what Benjamin Disraeli put best: "there are lies, damn lies, and plenty of reasons to question everything." While there won't be many revelations for the statistically predisposed, the Improbability Principle uses equal parts anecdote and principle to reveal the dirty tricks beneath all sorts of fantastic claims.

Still, repeated examples and an overabundance of detail are to the detriment of a central idea ("i
...more
Jeannette
Enjoyed it and if you are of similar mind there is a high probability that you will too. I didnt catch a lot of the finer statistical points, but what I really liked was being given names and a handle on the various sub-principles, like the law of inevitability, laws of large and truly large numbers,law of selection, the probability lever, and law of near enough. Ah, if only the airy fairy, ju-ju, woo woo superstitious, reincarnated crystal and navel gazers would read books like this... They jus ...more
Paul Kilmer
Overall, I enjoyed this book. There are a lot of laws presented (law of inevitability, law of truly large numbers, etc.) and there were several times when I felt a little overwhelmed by them all. But this offered, to me, a good treatment of the topic of improbability with good examples and without an overabundance of numbers.
Chris
Aug 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exciting and interesting!! until the last chapter which fell like a dud.

If you know anyone who attaches a ton of meaning to coincidences, this book will tie multiple tons of counterweights to their balloons. Recommended!!
Trever
May 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the easier to read and complete unabridged selection on statistics. I couldn't have been any more impressed with the book, well written and covers all the math.
BLACK CAT
Jun 26, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Probability.
Stewart
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title of mathematics professor David Hand’s book “The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day” seems like a contradiction. But it is not. Events that would be improbable for one or two people over a short time will become probable, indeed almost certain, when involving a large number of people and a huge amount of time. Hand calls this the law of truly large numbers, “which says that, with a large enough number of opportunities, any outrageous t ...more
Anel Kapur
I love mathematics. I love statistics. Above all I love logical reasoning being applied to answer questions. But even I struggled to get through this book. Whilst the content definitely has an element of appeal, I did find it dry more often than not. If you are considering it, do yourself a favour and go for the Audible audio book version.
Ed Terrell
Mar 21, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
“No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that it's falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact which it endeavors to establish.” David Hume

"Understanding means removing obscurity, obfuscation, ambiguity and confusion” David Hand

The Improbability Principle is the counter punch to Carl Jung’s “synchronicity”. Jung, the creator of “archetypes” used in psychotherapy practice, sought to prove that unusual coincidences (or synchronicity) that h
...more
Coco
Oct 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Good for critical thinking training.
LAPL Reads
Feb 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On April 23, 1999, Fernando Tatis of the St. Louis Cardinals hit a grand slam home run against Chan Ho Park of the Dodgers. That's not an overly rare event. However, Tatis didn't hit just one grand slam off of Park. He hit TWO. And they were in the same inning. No Major League player had ever done this before and no one has done it since. The chances of being a witness to such a thing must be so high to make it unlikely that anyone would ever see it. And yet it happened.

David Hand's book "The Im
...more
Gina
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I heard an interview on NPR with David Hand in which he shared a seemingly impossible coincidence involving Anthony Hopkins. I retold the story to my wife, who purchased the book for me that same night. I have not been able to shut up about the book ever since. Hand does an incredible job of combining probability theory, psychology, math, history, and truly incredible stories to teach the reader why we should actually expect seemingly unlikely events (I.e. winning the lottery twice in one day) t ...more
Andreas Schmidt
Sep 03, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Il caso non esiste, ma esiste la probabilità
A rendere il testo ancora più indigesto di quanto lo sia di per sé, è l'introduzione del tutto superflua e a malapena sopportabile di Malvaldi (non si capisce come ci entri in questo discorso, se non per mettereci una firma con un registro linguistico puerile e del tutto inadeguato al contesto e al registro linguistico di Hand - il primo scrive gialli per i pecoroni italiani, il secondo è un matematico con una cattedra all'Imperial College di Londra).
...more
Tony Sheldon
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Improbability Principle tells about an important concept, albeit in a not so exciting way as it promises.
Basically, the principle stands at that anything that is not going to happen (more so in a never ever way) can and will happen one day and that such instances of such improbable happening are in abundance around us.
Well, sometimes I thought that is common sense and if you look closely at the other laws of the book the situations become more and more an obvious thing.
For in short,the book
...more
Marc
Aug 05, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A solid and, more rather than less, satisfying read. Here is a primer, an overview of probability, of its mechanics and overarching power. Hands writes well and straightforward, never talking down or leaving one behind in a string of numbers. There's interesting stuff here. Nothing shattering or enveloping but a pause to wonder, a pause to consider. This isn't a necessity but a curiosity that lowers the strange and improbable down to earth.
Cecilia
The concepts are really interesting and insightful, but I am not a huge fan of the book's structure. The author jumped around a lot in explaining some of the core concepts, often deferring the reader to a later chapter, and other times referencing earlier chapters. The concepts themselves are fascinating though, and examples well illustrated, and the book has certainly made me think about probabilities in a different way.
Monty Allen
Apr 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whole lotta statistics going on here. This book didn't shy away from the statistical thinking that buttresses the title, but it was done in a manner that kept it both readable and interesting. If you're a fan of superstition or the supernatural this book will ruin your party. If, however, you're interested in finding out how and why some of those things can, do and should occur, dig in, this book is built for you.
Allan
Sep 25, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
An enjoyable read, with an excellent overview about probabilities involved in coincidences and unlikely events. I certainly recommend it to anyone with an interest in statistics.

However, I only gave it three stars because the book felt a bit padded. It's common for authors to "bulk up" a book because the publisher feels it's too short to justify a given retail price - perhaps this is the case here. I feel this book could have been better if condensed into just 150-200 pages.
Daniel Watkins
Good discussion of the reasons that human beings are terrible at estimating probability. I especially enjoyed the discussion showing that many of the events we hear about that shouldn't have happened because the probability of their occurrence was so small really indicate that we've assigned the events the wrong probability. The author illustrates this with examples from finance and from astronomy.
Marjorie Turner
Enjoyed how Hand presents complicated information. The ideas around probabilities and understanding that even “miraculous” events can be explained scientifically broaden my views. Considering I prefer to know the why’s of life, it is good to be educated on the how’s. Seeing the world from different angles makes my understanding richer. This is a fairly technical read – and while it is presented in layman’s terms, not something that is zipped through.
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David J. Hand is Senior Research Investigator and Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Imperial College, London, and Chief Scientific Advisor to Winton Capital Management. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, and a recipient of the Guy Medal of the Royal Statistical Society. He has served (twice) as President of the Royal Statistical Society, and is on the Board of the UK Statistics Authority. H ...more
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“Unfortunately, we generally find it difficult to assess very small probabilities. We typically overestimate them (thinking the events more likely than they are) and underestimate very high probabilities.” 2 likes
“Events don’t actually occur as often as people predict they will. And this in turn is related to hindsight bias (the tendency to see past events as being more predictable than they were at the time), which I’ll discuss shortly.” 1 likes
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