Hitlin, who earned a doctorate degree in political science from Vanderbilt University, explores the application of probability theory to everyday scenarios including finance, gaming and law.
Hitlin isn’t coy about his target audience for this work. This isn’t “a rigorous logical proof of probability theory nor is it a guide to calculating complicated probability problems,” he writes. “It is designed for people who are open to learning about ways to make more successful decisions in their everyday lives from a book written in non-mathematical language.” Hitlin maintains this clear, direct style and unpretentious graphical display throughout the text, interspersing quotes from notable figures such as Albert Einstein and Nils Bohr. The book is quite text-heavy, but charts and mathematical tables are sometimes balanced with friendly stock photos of dice and roulette tables. What distinguishes the work is how precisely it links seemingly dry mathematical formulas to real-life examples. In particular, the “Faulty Legal Reasoning” chapter lays out examples of court cases; in one, a defendant was convicted of murder and sentenced to jail based on the likelihood of a rare malady, sudden infant death syndrome, naturally occurring and killing two children in a given span of time. Hitlin manages to insert enough drama into the text to make it an intriguing read while simultaneously carefully laying out the mathematical evidence. For instance, the likelihood of a baby contracting SIDS was one in 8,500; in “reasoning used by the pediatrician, and accepted by the judge, the lawyers, and the jury,” the chances of two SIDS death in the same family was therefore one in 8,500 times one in 8,500. In this case, however, “subsequent statistical analysis demonstrated that after a SIDS death has occurred in a family, the chance of another SIDS death in the same family increases ten-fold,” Hitlin writes. Likewise, his studies of how colleges create formulas that allow them to admit more applicants than they actually intend to enroll is a fascinating read for anyone who has ever wondered how to strike the right balance in circumstances that are inherently unknowable. Each scenario, particularly the detailed examples, will help readers understand the scope and complexity of the world in which we live.
A mathematically supported, engaging read on how probabilities are frequently used, misunderstood and creatively applied to shape our daily lives.