The Drunkards Walk – Book Review

I may be a bit odd but statistics and probabilities have always been favorite subjects of mine. Ever since I learned that I could calculate the probabilities of a certain distribution of card hands, I’ve devoured every book on the subject I could find. Recently, I accidentally stumbled on The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives and I’m glad I did. Author Leonard Mlodinow takes the reader through the wonderful world of statistics and probabilities using real life examples and peppered with interesting historical anecdotes.

The first few chapters hammer home the idea that people are not nearly as in control of things as they think. Using the findings from real life psychological experiments, he deftly demonstrates that people are pattern seeking animals who are easily fooled by patterns that are not there. He also illustrates how the worth of a person is inappropriately judged by the results they can achieve. Randomness shows us that in the short term luck has a much bigger role in the outcome of any scenario than the skill of the people involved in it.

He spends a long time discussing some interesting probability conundrums including the famous Monty Hall Problem. He demonstrates why, mathematically, it is always the best strategy to change doors rather than keep the one that you picked first.

In the second half of the book he discusses statistics and the development of the normal distribution curve. He shows you how most everything in the world can be described using some version of a normal distribution. It’s fascinating.

Overall, I loved this book and can’t wait to read more from this author. He took a subject that could be mundane (like statistics) and really brought it alive with fascinating anecdotes and mind stimulating problems.

For a cosmetic chemist, the thing that I found most useful was the idea that success is not a reflection of how well you are doing your job. Just because your formula may have failed in the marketplace does not necessarily mean that it is a bad product. Rather, you were most likely, just unlucky. The solution to this…keep trying.

While you can’t control luck, you can control how often you try to get lucky.

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