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the complete review  mathematics
Randomness
by
Deborah J. Bennett
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Our Assessment:
B : good, accessible historical survey of and introduction to randomness and probability
See our review for fuller assessment.
Review Summaries
Source 
Rating 
Date 
Reviewer 
American Scientist 
A 
910/1998 
J.A.Rial 
Isis 
. 
6/1999 
Patti Wilger Hunter 
New Scientist 
B 
23/5/1998 
Simon Ings 
Physics Today 
. 
1/1999 
Stephen Gasiorowicz 
From the Reviews:
 "In this very entertaining little book, simply written but intended for careful readers, some of the most common mistakes people make about chance are carefully analyzed."  J.A.Rial, American Scientist
 "Bennett's text (...) is like a café conversation between cognoscenti. Eclectic, energetic and disorganized: nothing could more provoke and excite the reader."  Simon Ings, New Scientist
Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers.
Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.
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The complete review's Review:
Deborah J. Bennett's book is a useful survey of an often misunderstood topic.
Randomness is deceptively complex  in particular, as Bennett points out, because aspects of it are counterintuitive.
Unlike much of mathematics, people rarely have a natural grasp of the subject and the sense of odds, chance, and randomness improves with age only with respect to certain problems.
In a book filled with examples, Bennett shows how misconceptions about randomness and probability abound  all the more dangerous because of the constant use of statistics, probabilities and odds in everyday life.
Bennett addresses the problems from a number of vantage points, in the main in an historical account of randomness from antiquity to the present day.
From games of chance to modern efforts to find truly random numbers she presents a number of examples that allow her to explain and elaborate on the broad concept of randomness.
It is a useful mixture of history and specific mathematical problems, from the description of ancient (and modern) games of chance to Monte Carlo simulations.
The various mathematical problems she discusses are interesting (and sometimes frustrating  as proof of how easily we are misled).
Bennett does a particularly good job of illustrating and explaining common errors and why they are made.
Bennett generally explains herself clearly, offering illustrative tables and drawings where necessary (only one figure  nr. 11, of a quarter spinning in the air  completely baffled us (though it is, like the others, well drawn by Deborah's brother, Clay)).
Some mathematical background helps in understanding the material, but Bennett goes out of her way in making her text approachable to those with only a rudimentary (or rusty) background.
It is meant for (and appropriate for) a general audience.
A good introduction to a fascinating subject, with many interesting examples, Randomness can certainly be recommended.
It is not a comprehensive overview, but packs in quite a lot in fairly few pages.
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About the Author:
Deborah J. Bennett, born in 1950, is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Jersey City State College.
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