Cover image for What are the chances? : voodoo deaths, office gossip, and other adventures in probability
What are the chances? : voodoo deaths, office gossip, and other adventures in probability
Holland, Bart K.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
xi, 141 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Roulette wheels and the plague -- Surely something's wrong with you -- The life table: you can bet on it! -- The rarest events -- The waiting game -- Stockbrokers and climate change.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
QA273.15 .H65 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Our lives are governed by chance. But what, exactly, is chance? In this book, accomplished statistician and storyteller Bart K. Holland takes us on a tour of the world of probability. Weaving together tales from real life--from the spread of the bubonic plague in medieval Europe or the number of Prussian cavalrymen kicked to death by their horses, through IQ test results and deaths by voodoo curse, to why you have to wait in line for rides at Disneyworld--Holland captures the reader's imagination with surprising examples of probability in action, everyday events that can profoundly affect our lives but are controlled by just one number.

As Holland explains, even chance events are governed by the laws of probability and follow regular patterns called statistical laws. He shows how such laws are successfully applied, with great benefit, in fields as diverse as the insurance industry, the legal system, medical research, aerospace engineering, and climatology. Whether you have only a distant recollection of high school algebra or use differential equations every day, this book offers examples of the impact of chance that will amuse and astonish.

Author Notes

Bart K. Holland is an associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health at New Jersey Medical School.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

With a career in applying probability and statistics to medical research, most recently at New Jersey Medical School, Holland has assembled his favorite examples of probability and statistics as found in many facets of human life, not just medicine. His book is a potpourri of topics such as IQ, beginnings of the insurance industry, confidence intervals, roulette wheels, and criminal recidivism. The narration has a rambling nature and is at times hard to follow. Some topics are presented clearly, such as comments on the beginnings of insurance. Some illustrations are terrific, such as the link between popping popcorn and the normal distribution. Some statements are brilliantly expressed, e.g., "Regularities [emerge] from the most individualistic behaviors when societies [are] studied en masse." Other ideas are not well expressed or adequately explained; e.g., discussions of more mathematical topics, such as confidence intervals, will be lost on those who do not already understand them. The text could have been better organized so that the many anecdotal accounts, besides arousing curiosity, would also make a point. The book is not for academic libraries; the weak narrative development and lack of organization will limit popular appeal. W. R. Lee Iowa State University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
1. Roulette Wheels and the Plaguep. 1
2. Surely Something's Wrong with Youp. 31
3. The Life Table: You Can Bet on It!p. 51
4. The Rarest Eventsp. 71
5. The Waiting Gamep. 95
6. Stockbrokers and Climate Changep. 109
Indexp. 137