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Chancing It

The Laws of Chance and How They Can Work for You

Make your own luck by understanding probability

Over the years, some very smart people have thought they understood the rules of chance?only to fail dismally. Whether you call it probability, risk, or uncertainty, the workings of chance often defy common sense. Fortunately, advances in math and science have revealed the laws of chance, and understanding those laws can help in your everyday life.

In Chancing It, award-winning scientist and writer Robert Matthews shows how to understand the laws of probability and use them to your advantage. He gives you access to some of the most potent intellectual tools ever developed and explains how to use them to guide your judgments and decisions. By the end of the book, you will know:

  • How to understand and even predict coincidences

  • When an insurance policy is worth having

  • Why “expert” predictions are often misleading

  • How to tell when a scientific claim is a breakthrough or baloney

  • When it makes sense to place a bet on anything from sports to stock markets


  • A groundbreaking introduction to the power of probability, Chancing It will sharpen your decision-making and maximize your luck.

    Chancing It is filled with surprising insights about the nature of randomness and the randomness of nature, as well as the likelihood of human nature to be misled when it comes to the topic of uncertainty. Written for non-specialists with clarity and humor, it offers sound advice about the uses and abuses of big data and statistics. The chances are good that you will find valuable information here.”
    —Arthur Benjamin, author of The Magic of Math and Secrets of Mental Math
    “Robert Matthews’s engaging book shows the critical importance of understanding the basic ideas of probability and statistics for life in the modern world. He ranges over counterintuitive properties of chance, through evidence which is there if only we open our eyes to see it, to how to make—and lose—a fortune, all in a clear and accessible way.”
    —David J. Hand, author of The Improbability Principle
    “With a witty, welcoming spirit of Darrell Huff’s 1954 bestseller How to Lie with Statistics, Robert Matthews has written one of those rare informative statistics books for everyone. In this era’s slippery claims of facts and fallacies, Chancing It is fresh enlightenment on how to judge the random winds of possibility with well-informed skepticism of belief.”
    —Joseph Mazur, author of Fluke: The Math and Myth of Coincidence
    “Entertaining as well as thought-provoking, Chancing It is a practical guide to the uses and misuses of the science of probability. Alive with anecdotes and provocative in its insights, Matthews’s book will prove invaluable to both laymen and scientists, and to anyone trying to make sense of the daily news.”
    —Amir Alexander, author of Infinitesimal
    “To survive in the contemporary world no one—from CEOs of major corporations to ordinary citizens—can afford to remain ignorant of chance and uncertainty. Robert Matthews not only reveals the ‘laws of chance’ but cogently explains why no fashionable computer algorithm or mathematical model will ever succeed in totally banishing risk.”
    —William Byers, author of The Blind Spot: Science and the Crisis of Uncertainty and How Mathematicians Think
    “Robert Matthews is able to choose just the right fascinating anecdotes to illustrate how complex concepts of probability and statistics apply—or sometimes fail to apply—to everyday life. Chancing It clearly explains why we need to be very careful when evaluating probabilistic and statistical claims from journalists, doctors, scientists and salespeople. It is a pleasure to read.”
    —Avner Ash, coauthor of Summing It Up: From One Plus One to Modern Number Theory
    “Outstanding...an extraordinary writer.... At a time when mathematics needs charismatic ambassadors more than ever, Matthews has written a book of great significance.”
    —Oliver Moody, The Times
    “Beguiling … Matthews has the knack of explaining things clearly for the non-specialist, leavening the formulae with intriguing snippets of history and biography … his enthusiasm contributes to a lively and fascinating narrative.”
    —Ian Critchley, Sunday Times
    “An excellent handbook for addressing the seemingly illogical logic of chance.”
    —Ian Simmons, Fortean Times
    “If you’ve ever wondered what is so amazing about an ‘amazing coincidence,’ or what exactly is the First Law of Lawlessness, this is your book. Written in an engaging, informative and humorous style, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the laws of chance, the probabilities of winning the lottery, and the exaggerated—and often misleading—claims about the nature of randomness. Highly recommended!”
    —Eli Maor, author of e: the Story of a Number
    Chancing It takes the reader on a delightful tour of probability, offering insights along the way on everything from casinos to insurance to the wisdom of crowds. Matthews combines wonderful anecdotes with clear analysis, giving the reader an excellent overview of what numbers can tell us—and also what they cannot.”
    —Charles Wheelan, author of Naked Economics and Naked Statistics
    “I’ll never bet on a sporting event, play Vegas blackjack, analyze statistics, or think about how lives turn out the same way again after reading Robert Matthews’s illuminating and important book on the laws of chance and how they work in the real world. Every chapter contains a straightforward explanation of an important concept and a lesson on how to apply it to your life. I learned something new on nearly every fact-filled page. A delightful read.”
    —Michael Shermer, columnist for Scientific American and author of Why People Believe Weird Things

    Chancing It is filled with surprising insights about the nature of randomness and the randomness of nature, as well as the likelihood of human nature to be misled when it comes to the topic of uncertainty. Written for non-specialists with clarity and humor, it offers sound advice about the uses and abuses of big data and statistics. The chances are good that you will find valuable information here.”
    —Arthur Benjamin, author of The Magic of Math and Secrets of Mental Math
    “Robert Matthews’s engaging book shows the critical importance of understanding the basic ideas of probability and statistics for life in the modern world. He ranges over counterintuitive properties of chance, through evidence which is there if only we open our eyes to see it, to how to make—and lose—a fortune, all in a clear and accessible way.”
    —David J. Hand, author of The Improbability Principle
    “With a witty, welcoming spirit of Darrell Huff’s 1954 bestseller How to Lie with Statistics, Robert Matthews has written one of those rare informative statistics books for everyone. In this era’s slippery claims of facts and fallacies, Chancing It is fresh enlightenment on how to judge the random winds of possibility with well-informed skepticism of belief.”
    —Joseph Mazur, author of Fluke: The Math and Myth of Coincidence
    “Entertaining as well as thought-provoking, Chancing It is a practical guide to the uses and misuses of the science of probability. Alive with anecdotes and provocative in its insights, Matthews’s book will prove invaluable to both laymen and scientists, and to anyone trying to make sense of the daily news.”
    —Amir Alexander, author of Infinitesimal
    “To survive in the contemporary world no one—from CEOs of major corporations to ordinary citizens—can afford to remain ignorant of chance and uncertainty. Robert Matthews not only reveals the ‘laws of chance’ but cogently explains why no fashionable computer algorithm or mathematical model will ever succeed in totally banishing risk.”
    —William Byers, author of The Blind Spot: Science and the Crisis of Uncertainty and How Mathematicians Think
    “Robert Matthews is able to choose just the right fascinating anecdotes to illustrate how complex concepts of probability and statistics apply—or sometimes fail to apply—to everyday life. Chancing It clearly explains why we need to be very careful when evaluating probabilistic and statistical claims from journalists, doctors, scientists and salespeople. It is a pleasure to read.”
    —Avner Ash, coauthor of Summing It Up: From One Plus One to Modern Number Theory
    “Outstanding...an extraordinary writer.... At a time when mathematics needs charismatic ambassadors more than ever, Matthews has written a book of great significance.”
    —Oliver Moody, The Times
    “Beguiling … Matthews has the knack of explaining things clearly for the non-specialist, leavening the formulae with intriguing snippets of history and biography … his enthusiasm contributes to a lively and fascinating narrative.”
    —Ian Critchley, Sunday Times
    “An excellent handbook for addressing the seemingly illogical logic of chance.”
    —Ian Simmons, Fortean Times
    “If you’ve ever wondered what is so amazing about an ‘amazing coincidence,’ or what exactly is the First Law of Lawlessness, this is your book. Written in an engaging, informative and humorous style, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the laws of chance, the probabilities of winning the lottery, and the exaggerated—and often misleading—claims about the nature of randomness. Highly recommended!”
    —Eli Maor, author of e: the Story of a Number
    Chancing It takes the reader on a delightful tour of probability, offering insights along the way on everything from casinos to insurance to the wisdom of crowds. Matthews combines wonderful anecdotes with clear analysis, giving the reader an excellent overview of what numbers can tell us—and also what they cannot.”
    —Charles Wheelan, author of Naked Economics and Naked Statistics
    “I’ll never bet on a sporting event, play Vegas blackjack, analyze statistics, or think about how lives turn out the same way again after reading Robert Matthews’s illuminating and important book on the laws of chance and how they work in the real world. Every chapter contains a straightforward explanation of an important concept and a lesson on how to apply it to your life. I learned something new on nearly every fact-filled page. A delightful read.”
    —Michael Shermer, columnist for Scientific American and author of Why People Believe Weird Things