Ably and assuredly demystifies an ordinarily intimidating subject.

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THE IMPROBABILITY PRINCIPLE

WHY COINCIDENCES, MIRACLES, AND RARE EVENTS HAPPEN EVERY DAY

Enlightening and entertaining explanation of why extraordinary events are to be expected.

Former Royal Statistical Society president Hand (Emeritus, Mathematics/Imperial Coll., London; Statistics: A Very Short Introduction, 2008, etc.) is an erudite but utterly unpretentious guide to the often confusing and counterintuitive subject of probability and its underappreciated complement, improbability. He explains why we should not be surprised, for example, when some people win lotteries or are hit by lightning multiple times, despite the odds against either event happening to any single person even once being vanishingly small. Chapter by chapter, Hand pieces together the threads of what he calls the “Improbability Principle,” showing that if something can happen, given enough time and enough opportunities (according to the law of very large numbers), it will happen. But he also reveals that extraordinary events which, in theory, are highly improbable or even impossible, usually prove, upon closer inspection, to have “probability levers” that raise the odds they will happen: Roy Sullivan was struck seven times by lightning, which would seem fantastical if you didn’t know he was a forest ranger. “The Improbability Principle tells us that events which we regard as highly improbable occur because we got things wrong,” writes Hand. “If we can find out where we went wrong, then the improbable will become probable.” Without taxing casual readers with strenuous math, the author coolly examines many fascinating examples of the unlikely, including odd coincidences—as when actor Anthony Hopkins found a copy of the book his next film project was to be based on in an empty seat on a subway train and learned weeks later that the copy belonged to a friend of the book’s author who was preparing an American edition—hot streaks in sports, ESP research, C.G. Jung’s accounts of synchronicity, and even the origins of life and the universe.

Ably and assuredly demystifies an ordinarily intimidating subject.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-17534-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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