What the Luck?: The Surprising Role of Chance in Our Everyday Lives by Gary Smith


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The world is filled with curious facts: intelligent women tend to marry men who are less intelligent. Students who get the highest scores in year-three generally get lower scores in year-four. Pilot trainees praised for good performance achieve worse results in their next exercise, but trainees who are shouted at for doing poorly perform better later on. But it would be wrong for us to assume that smart women are more attracted to unintelligent men or that schools are failing their students, or that shouting is the best way to get results.

There is one unifying reason for each of these curious cases: a concept called ‘regression to the mean’ which explains how we can easily be misled by random chance in our daily lives. Luck can wreak all kinds of mischief in sports, business, education, politics, and everywhere in between so that we attach meaning to the meaningless, making questionable decisions that leave us wondering: what went wrong?

In What the Luck? statistician Gary Smith and author of Standard Deviations (The Times Book of the Week) explains how an understanding of luck can not only change the way we see the world but how we can make better choices by using the realm of probability to our advantage.