Because Ideas Matter...
The faculty and staff of Butler University's College of Liberal
Arts and Sciences presents
The Drunkard's Walk:
How Randomness Rules Our Lives
by Leonard Mlodinow, Pantheon Books 2008.
Reviewed by Robert Dale
Against all odds, Leonard Mlodinow has
written an enthralling book about probability and statistics.
Informed that he had tested HIV-positive on a 99.9% accurate test,
the author used probability theory (Bayes' theorem) to show that,
given his demographic background, the odds were only 1-in-11 that
he actually had HIV/AIDS. He provides numerous examples showing how
chance holds dominion in medicine,law, business, sports and our
For example, he describes the work of David Kahneman and Amos
Tversky who spent 30 years, together, studying systematic biases in
decision-making. Tversky died at the age of 59, only six years
before their work earned Kahneman the Nobel Prize in Economics.
As Mlodinow concludes, "the cord that tethers ability to success
is both loose and elastic." His central message is that success
does not necessarily come to the smart, the strong or the brave: It
favors perseverance. Mlodinow advises readers that, though we may
see through a glass darkly, we must keep looking (he shows how) -
and be prepared to react to whatever may come.
Mlodinow discusses important concepts, such as the Law of Large
Numbers and the Normal distribution, but he also addresses
contributors' personal circumstances. For example, a 16th century
physician and gambler, Gerolamo Cardano, invented the concept of a
"sample space" - the set of all possible outcomes of a random
process - and published important work on negative numbers. He was
a less successful father: the nicest of his three children was an
- Robert Dale is a professor of Psychology at Butler