David Spiegelhalter on Statistics and Risk

Stat Over at Five Books:

Let’s have a look. First up is The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow, which looks at how the mathematical laws of randomness affect our lives.

This is a general introduction to the history of probability and the way it comes into everyday life. It intersperses the historical development with modern applications, and looks at finance, sport, gambling, lotteries and coincidences.

It starts off with quotes from Cicero feeling that people were being misled by thinking that the gods influenced the throw of a die. Then it carries on through the early development of probability in the 16th century with [Italian Renaissance mathematician Gerolamo] Cardano. He threw two dice and looked at the distribution of the sum of the two faces. There was an incredibly popular game called Hazard where you threw two dice and betted on what the total would be. Amazingly, people had been gambling for centuries and had never realised you could do maths on gambling. Probability – which used to be known by the wonderful term “the doctrine of chances” – grew out of this.