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by Grady Klein, Alan Dabney

Pub Date: July 2nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8090-3359-1
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A gentle, pleasantly illustrated induction into the strange world of bell curves and chi squares.

If you’re numerate enough to comprehend statistics, then is a cartoon approach to the subject necessary? Sure. As graphic artist Klein (The Cartoon Introduction to Economics, 2012, etc.) and Dabney (Statistics/Texas A&M Univ.) note, statistics are everywhere—in sports, finance, government, the weather and just about every aspect of life—and knowing how to make use of them affords us the ability “to make confident statements.” Turning to standard deviations, sampling distributions, probabilities and all the other stuff of the statistician’s art, Klein and Dabney ably show how these “confident statements” are put to use, among others, by politicians, who extrapolate from the numbers to make policy decisions. There would seem, in that regard, to be a 90 percent likelihood that one of the politicians they lampoon is the balloonlike Newt Gingrich, who is no stranger to confident if errant statements of presumed fact. One central fact to which the authors return often is that “the more averages you pile up, the more normal-shaped the pile tends to become,” that normal shape being, yes, the bell curve, “the most beautiful shape in all of statistics.” Though the results are likely to yield that normal shape regardless, then, this is one reason careful statisticians prefer large and random samples. There is some inevitable simplification here—as they note, “in practice…conditions are often more complex”—but Klein and Dabney give a smart, enjoyable overview of this most useful branch of mathematics.  

Well-suited to middle and high schoolers as well as to adults seeking to brush up their statistical skills without breaking a sweat.