The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

George Gamow introduced me to Monte Carlo methods in a chapter of "One Two Three Infinity" (Hal's Pick of April, 2001) that I first read when I was about twelve. His vivid description and witty illustration of the path of a staggering drunk comes clearly to mind even these many decades later, and it surely inspired my research on a number of projects. Leonard Mlodinow has written a book that could well have a similar effect on its readers. Without using equations, he addresses some serious ideas, such as conditional probabilities and Bayesian statistics. His chapter on Measurement could be used for any of several science courses, and would be better than what is usually found. A scenario on conditional probability: Given that a couple with two children has one girl, the probability that they have two girls is 1/3. Maybe you were aware of that. But did you know that, if it is given that they have one girl named Florida, that the probability that they have two girls is 1/2? "The Drunkard's Walk" is full of many such seductive examples, that are not only theoretically interesting but also important in everyday life.

Pick Attribution: 

Leonard Mlodinow

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, January 1, 2008