Book Review – How Not to Be Wrong

By | April 28, 2015

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg is a very funny and beautiful book about math and is my favorite book of the year so far. It’s very rare that when I finish a book, I have the urge to read it again. But, that’s how I felt after finishing How Not to Be Wrong, and I did end up giving it a fast, second read. I had bought a copy when I was supposed to be shopping for Xmas gifts for others, but it somehow ended up on my bookshelf. Sometimes selfishness pays off.

Ellenberg tells many fascinating stories related to math and statistics, with most describing a somewhat reasonable argument or approach that turns out to be significantly, if not completely, wrong. While he takes apart easy targets like Pascal’s and Paley’s arguments for the existence of a god, applying the Law of Large Numbers to small numbers and why you should almost never play lotteries, he also explains things like the dangers of concluding too much from p-values and extrapolating proportions that can be computed in multiple ways.

I’m very tempted to buy the domain http://shouldiplaypowerballnow.com/, and have it always render NO, except when another state like Massachusetts screws up the math and makes it temporarily profitable.

He keeps the math fairly simple, but for once in a popular book, I didn’t mind at all. The real math behind some of the problems he describes is far beyond my skills.

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