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The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

3.9  ·  Rating details ·  16,627 Ratings  ·  1,354 Reviews
In this irreverent and illuminating book, acclaimed writer and scientist Leonard Mlodinow shows us how randomness, chance, and probability reveal a tremendous amount about our daily lives, and how we misunderstand the significance of everything from a casual conversation to a major financial setback. As a result, successes and failures in life are often attributed to clear ...more
Hardcover, 252 pages
Published May 13th 2008 by Pantheon Books
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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
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
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
Aug 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, maths
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
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 reje
aPriL does feral sometimes
May 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, non-fiction
There is a lot that is disturbing in this book. 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 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 beh
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
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
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
Dec 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mathematics
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.
Sabbir Ahmed
গণিত সবসময় আমার কাছে একটা রসকষহীন অহংকারী একটি যনতরের মত মনে হয়, যা পরশন করব কোন ভণিতা না করে সে ঠিক তার উততর দিবে। দুই আর দুইয়ে চার, তিন ফযাকটোরিয়াল ছয় - বযাস এর অনযথা হবার কোন উপায় নেই। অধরা ফারমার শেষ উপপাদয পরযনত তার হাতে হেসতনেসত হয়ে ধরা দিয়েছে। গণিত সমীকরণ, চলক, ঘাত, সংখযার খেলা। সমীকরণে সব বসিয়ে দিন, আপনার উততর আপনি পেয়ে যাবেন।
কিনতু যে বযাপারটি সমপূরণরূপে দৈব, যে ঘটনার ফলাফল সমপরকে নিশচিত হয়ে কিছু বলা যায় না সেখানে আবার কিসের গণিত?
পাঁচশ বার ছককা নিকষেপ করলে কত বার ছয় উঠবে, পরথম পরীকষায় ফে
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
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
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
Ioannis Savvas
Feb 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Το Βάδισμα του Μεθύστακα είναι ένα βιβλίο απίθανο. Ή μάλλον πιθανό. Αλλά πόσο πιθανό; Πολύ πιθανό ή λίγο πιθανό; Δηλαδή 0,013 < p < 0,846. Τόσο πιθανό! Αν βλέποντάς το στο ράφι του βιβλιοπωλείου ο πωλητής μού έλεγε ότι απ' όλα τα βιβλία του ραφιού όλα είναι «μάπα» εκτός από ένα, και αυτό το ένα είναι είτε αυτό που διάλεξα είτε ένα άλλο, τι θα έπρεπε να κάνω; Να αλλάξω την αρχική μου επιλογή ή να την κρατήσω; Πότε θα είχα μεγαλύτερη πιθανότητα να βρω το «καλό» βιβλίο;

Και σε ένα final four π
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
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.
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)

Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I confess to math envy. I can understand general concepts and ideas if they're presented in verbal form. Show me a page full of numbers and  mathematical symbols and my brain freezes up like a sprinkler at the North Pole. That's why I find books like this one so helpful. Maybe it's not helpful, since I can finish a book like this and have no less arithmophobia than when I started, but at least I can wrap my head around the concept.

"The drunkard's walk" is a phrase that came into use in the 1930s
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
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
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
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
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.

Jul 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: english, non-fiction
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
Renan Santos
Jul 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: acquired
O livro mostra de forma bem clara e dinâmica como aspectos importantes das nossas vidas são influenciados por fatores totalmente aleatórios e, em geral, alheios a nossa percepção. Isso pode parecer um pouco estranho e assustador, mas isso porque, como o autor mostra logo no começo, nossas mentes não estão preparadas para lidar com fatores aleatórios, com cálculos de probabilidades.Ou análise sensorial de vinhos.

Isso porque nossas mentes funcionam com base em padrões. Queremos enxergar padrões em
Steve Schafer
Nov 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
A decade ago, the statistician author of this book tested positive for AIDS. The doctor informed him that the test was 99.9% accurate, so there was little hope for error. After an abysmal weekend, he began to question the relevancy this number. The incidence of AIDS (within his demographic—middle aged, non-IV-drug user) is 1 in 10,000. So, out of every 10,000 who take the test, 1 person will test positive and will have the disease. HOWEVER, with a .1% error rate, of those same 10,000 tested, 10 ...more
Sara Ⓥ
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
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Science and Inquiry: April 2012 - Drunkard's Walk 36 101 May 25, 2012 10:15PM  
  • Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life
  • Complexity: A Guided Tour
  • Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics
  • Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another
  • Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences
  • The Music of the Primes: Searching to Solve the Greatest Mystery in Mathematics
  • Journey through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics
  • Number: The Language of Science
  • A World Without Ice
  • Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order
  • The Mathematics of Life
  • Here's Looking at Euclid: A Surprising Excursion Through the Astonishing World of Math
  • 13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time
  • The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg
  • Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception
  • The Equation That Couldn't Be Solved: How Mathematical Genius Discovered the Language of Symmetry
  • How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life
  • Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk
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
“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.” 25 likes
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