An entertaining introduction to one of the most universally relevant and most widely misunderstood branches of mathematics.

CHANCE

A GUIDE TO GAMBLING, LOVE, THE STOCK MARKET, AND JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE

Are you a betting person? Here’s how to calculate the odds.

Mathematician Aczel (Pendulum, 2003, etc.) surveys probability theory, using no math more complex than algebra. He defines probability, then devotes each short chapter to explaining how it works in some concrete instance, such as the odds of drawing a spade from a deck of cards. Building from simpler to more complex examples, the author offers insights into phenomena that seem counterintuitive to many nonmathematicians, such as the “gambler’s ruin,” a proof that while the so-called law of averages will in the long run produce results that fit the predictions of simplistic mathematics, there is no guarantee that they will do so in the short run. In one long trial of coin flips, the number of heads stayed above the number of tails for nearly three thousand turns; in the very long run, it did even out, but gamblers relying on a 50-50 split would have been bankrupted long before the law of averages came to their rescue. Another counterintuitive result is the likelihood that in a group of 23 people, 2 will share a birthday; Aczel shows how to calculate it. Other startling coincidences, like a chance acquaintance turning out to be your wife’s high-school classmate, depend on an extended web of interests and relationships that give all of us more in common than we realize. The author even manages to tie something as apparently esoteric as Baye’s Theorem to everyday discourse by way of the “Monty Hall Problem,” based on the three doors contestants had to choose among on Let’s Make a Deal. A set of problems at the end lets readers test their understanding, and an appendix applies Aczel’s insights to common gambling games.

An entertaining introduction to one of the most universally relevant and most widely misunderstood branches of mathematics.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-56858-316-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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