LIFE: The Odds (and How to Improve Them)

Gregory Arthur Baer, Author
Gregory Arthur Baer, Author . Gotham $20 (256p) ISBN 978-1-59240-033-1
Reviewed on: 09/15/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003

This is an entertaining book that succeeds despite its author's missteps as a humorist. In presenting the odds of all manner of events both possible ("Dating a Supermodel") and improbable ("Becoming a Professional Athlete"), Baer (The Great Mutual Fund Trap) is clearly emulating the Worst-Case Scenario books, which have turned studying extreme real-life events into a cottage industry. Baer knows and expertly uses statistics and probabilities: it is fascinating to learn, for example, that the chances of dying by being hit by an asteroid are three times greater than dying in a train crash or an earthquake and are 250 times greater than dying from a shark attack. He also provides some revealing sidebars on certain topics, such as his look at how the odds of celebrity divorce are even worse than the already horrible odds of divorce for newly married couples ("about even money, 1 to 1"). Baer sometimes interrupts his statistical analyses with attempts at Dave Barry–style one-liners, but they fall flat, such as when he insults the livability of Cleveland or comments on the looks of Prince Charles's paramour Camilla Parker Bowles. Because of its range of topics, this book should gain some word-of-mouth praise, however, and will likely improve water-cooler conversations. (Oct.)