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Fluke: The Math and Myth of Coincidence

Joseph Mazur
Basic Books
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Peter Rabinovitch
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As I sat reading the first pages of Fluke, while sitting in the waiting room of my dentist’s office, I overheard a patient and the receptionist talk excitedly about what a coincidence it was that they were both going to be at the same resort on March break. Of course, neither of them knew that it was even more of a coincidence, seeing as I was reading a book about just such phenomena. Of course, the odds of that happening get even smaller if you consider that the patient and I were both wearing the same brand of winter boots! And, neither she nor I had gloves! What are the chances? It must be some cosmic conspiracy!

Is it also a coincidence that his book includes sections on basics of probability; common coincidence stories; the birthday paradox; multiple lottery winners; DNA evidence; and monkeys typing Shakespeare while many of the books listed on David Aldous’s Amazon reviews page also discuss the same topics?

Or, perhaps it is a coincidence that this book is aimed at the general, non-mathematical public, and this is almost exactly the group of people who will buy it?

If your eyes started to roll as the previous paragraphs went on, this book is probably not for you. But, it might be for friends, family members, etc who would think that something sinister (or divine) was happening. For them, it is well written, entertaining, and has many historical asides, an understandable introduction to probability for the layman, and plenty of end notes.

Perhaps when I go for my next dental visit I’ll lend the receptionist this book!

Peter Rabinovitch is a Senior Performance Engineer at Akamai, and as been doing data science since long before “data science” was a thing. He shares a birthday with his wife. Concidence?

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