The Drunkard’s Walk – Leonard Mlodinow

A defining moment in my life was the one where I learned that the world was not an intuitive place. It feels like something that I might have always known somewhere deep down in the abyss of my brain, but there was a definitive moment when I decided to no longer base decisions on expectations of how the world would be and to hold my opinions until I was armed with a few more facts. This was a pretty big change for me. I made a lot less wild ass assertions and began saying I don’t know yet. The opinions I once held that were based on assumptions just fell away.

Many things led to this. It was in no way a simple process, and while this book was not one of the ones that caused this change in me it certainly helps reinforce the lesson.

If I had to give The Drunkard’s Walk a brief, subtitle, it would be People really don’t understand statistics and mathematics, which as far as general statements goes is one I fully endorse. The book covers the history of the mathematics of probability and randomness, and goes into not only how the rules of randomness effect of daily life, but also how people often misunderstand what randomness really means and what randomness really looks like.

It is hard to off the bat call this book entertaining. That opinion really depends on what one thinks about the history of knowledge as a subject. Often, when we think of inventions and innovations we tend to think more of people constructing actual physical contraptions. But the history of thought has its own heroes, many of whom have been forgotten to history. This book looks at a sliver of those people as well as going into their contributions to the science of mathematical and statistical sciences.

If that sounds like something you can get behind, then by all means dive right in. But an endorsement can be made on one factor – as far as books in that genre go this one is shorter than most, as well as being well written. If you were obliged to read a book in this genre, this one would not be a bad one to consider. You might not find the information in it to be groundbreaking, but it is certainly a lesson worth revisiting, and revisiting often, at least until more people start getting it right.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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