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The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  21,520 ratings  ·  1,696 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
Hardcover, 252 pages
Published May 13th 2008 by Pantheon Books
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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 ·  21,520 ratings  ·  1,696 reviews

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May 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
David Rubenstein
Feb 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 05, 2016 rated it really liked it

Lots of people might think they can compute the odds that something will happen. For instance, If my favorite baseball team is playing an opponent with inferior stats I might be pretty sure my guys will win....and place a small wager. But random chance - which is the rule rather than the exception - could trip me up. A so-so batter on the other team might miraculously hit a grand slam home run! 😲

In this book Leonard Mlodinow explains how randomness affects our lives. For example, a publisher rej
Aug 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: maths, history
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
aPriL does feral sometimes
May 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, non-fiction
There is a lot that is disturbing in 'The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules our Lives.' by Leonard Mlodinow. Are we 'Masters of the Universe'? Not so much.

The author discusses in a breezy, easy to understand conversational manner how randomness and chance are behind many human decisions. We believe we make decisions based on educated guesses or personal skills. Luck, though, functions far more than we know in how things turn out for us.

Briefly, but entertaining all the while, the author dis
Bronson Lauper
Dec 03, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: could-not-finish
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
Feb 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
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
Steve Bennett
May 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Angie Boyter
Oct 13, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
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
Jul 23, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Aug 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I liked Leonard Mlodinow’s The Drunkard’s Walk. It’s an important reminder of those principles, studied long ago, now only distantly familiar, regarding randomness. Because our brains do such a poor job filtering data, owing to a wide assortment of cognitive biases, it’s important, it seems, to revisit the science of probability and statistics; this work achieves that end. I think it’s a better written volume than the four others I recently read on this topic.

I enjoyed recounting the Monty Hall
Jul 06, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
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
Jamie Smith
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: math
Most people are terrible at understanding the odds. Casinos are full of people who don’t realize that, in the long run, the house always wins. People who play the lotteries can buy lists of numbers that have recently come up regularly and so are ‘hot,’ or they can buy lists of numbers that have not come up recently and are ‘due.’ And none of them are worth the paper they are printed on.

This book is about randomness, about learning how to interpret the probabilities we encounter in our daily live
May 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 15, 2022 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

I liked some of the anecdotes and don't disagree with any of the statistical assertions. It is even okay that there is no math presented. But the book does not measure up to the to the likes of Gladwell's Blink or Levitt's Freakonomics.

I think the main reason for the lack of entertaining insights here is that the author is a physicist and not an economist or social scientist. So instead it is a book by a physicist who is not really working in this field with a lot of collaborators in e
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
Got through 80% and decided to stop lol... Couldn't take it any longer. This book is extremely dry and boring. Although there are some valuable things to learn from it.

But I thought this book was going to have more to do with psychology but it has more to do with statistics and probabilities - mathematics... And do you know what my least favorite subject was in all of my Business degree? ... Statistics... Maybe it's because I'm not interested in it, maybe because I just don't understand it, but
Aug 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
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
Dec 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jiwesh by: Raghoonandh
Shelves: favorites
A more concrete book on behavioural economics, statistical fallacies and randomness. Uses more math and less examples than the more-popular books on the same subject.

The book might be better suited to people who've already come across material on behavioural economics.

"We miss the effects of randomness in life because when we assess the world, we tend to see what we expect to see. We in effect define the degree of talent by degree of success and then reinforce our feeling of causality by notin
A great little book about statistics (my college minor), written by a professor of physics (my major field of study).

I got my minor 11 years ago and haven't used statistics since. I've been aiming to take it back up again. maybe even do a career switch to data science (sometime down the road, at least two textbooks and a few online courses away - not to mention that I don't know of any data science openings in my city and I love my current house, and so does my husband...). I figured that plungi
Emma Sea
Not as much fun as I hoped.

I didn't expect as much on the historical development of different statistical techniques and theorems: I thought there'd be more emphasis on the randomness in our day to day lives. Where this was the focus I thought the book was great: aspects like false positive HIV tests and film studio performance, for example. For this reason I enjoyed the final two chapters vastly more than the rest of the book.

Trevor wrote an incredibly comprehensive review which sums it all up
Cassandra Kay Silva
Dec 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mathematics
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. ...more
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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)

Jan 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Sarah Clement
Jan 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a well-written, common sense account of probability for the layperson. I found it entertaining and it reminded me of past statistics courses - things I had forgotten I had even learned. However, it's not really what I was expecting. I expected more focus on how we misjudge probability in our every day lives, but that discussion felt ancillary to the discussion of the history of statistics in the book. I don't want to make it sound boring, because it wasn't, and the last third of the ...more
Tim Abraham
Jun 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Isil Arican
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
A good, introductory book to general concepts of randomness, chance, and probability. The author does a great job explaining things in a simple matter, giving examples the reader can relate from daily life and demonstrates how this information can be applied to critical thinking/ skepticism.

The book provides a compilation of common/known topics ranging from base rate fallacy, regression to the mean, Monty Hall problem while also providing an easy to follow summary of the history of statistics.

I loved Thinking, Fast and Slow and I always had plans for doing a long and elaborate review of it. I even have a chunk of it drafted. Alas, that review will probably never happen. But I will say, if you liked this book and want to explore some of the concepts in depth without the historical references, I highly recommend it.

So this book I liked. Being a math person, many of the ideas are not new to me. But I will add that being a person who has an affinity for real and complex analysis, set the
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Science and Inquiry: April 2012 - Drunkard's Walk 36 109 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

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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?”
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