CHANCE: A Guide to Gambling, Love, the Stock Market and Just About Everything Else

Amir D. Aczel, Author . Thunder's Mouth $21 (272p) ISBN 978-1-56858-316-7

The baffling, for some, subject of chance and luck is demystified in this sketchy but engaging treatise. Mathematician Aczel (Fermat's Last Theorem ) includes some equations, but mostly sticks to grade-school arithmetic and a few easy story problems in explicating the mathematics of probability. He untangles a number of urgent conundrums, including why buses always seem to run late, why any group of 31 people will include two with the same birthday and why random walks can model the stock market. The book abounds in counterintuitive life lessons. You shouldn't gamble, he says, but if you do then you are better off, probability-wise, if you blow your whole wad on a single spin of the roulette wheel than if you parcel it out in smaller bets. And the lovelorn can take comfort in knowing that, if you just keep dating, the odds are surprisingly good that your soul mate will turn up. Indeed, "[y]ou will maximize your probability of finding the best spouse if you date thirty-seven percent of the available candidates in your life, and then choose to stay with the next candidate who is better than all previous ones." Aczel's treatments of some topics, like game theory, are so perfunctory as to barely register, but his light touch generally makes probability come alive. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 09/13/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
Paperback - 161 pages - 978-1-56025-794-3
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