Real-World Probability Books: Miscellaneous

Skiena, Steven and Ward, Charles B. Who's Bigger?: Where Historical Figures Really Rank. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

This isn't about probability, but is a potential source of projects for my course. See my comments here.

Bruce, Colin. Conned Again, Watson. Perseus, Cambridge MA, 2002.

See my amazon.com review.

Rosenhouse, Jason. The Monty Hall Problem. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Not to my own taste -- apart from the actual TV game version it is all hypothetical rather than real-world -- but worth noting for the mathematical enthusiast. Here is a precis of the Math Reviews review.
....... a superb source of variants of the problem, paying careful attention to the hidden assumptions behind the problems, written in a witty accessible style. The reader will find discussions of many variants -- progressive versions, Bayesian treatments of the problems, computer simulations, quantum versions, information-theoretic representations, common cognitive fallacies associated with the problem, and much more. This is a model of how to accessibly introduce mathematical material at an elementary level that is not a mere popularization of the material. Although not suited, nor designed, to teach elementary probability theory, it could usefully serve as a supplementary text for the stronger students in such a course, especially in conveying the ideas of replacing an appeal to intuitions by an explicit mathematical treatment and the care needed in setting up under-specified problems for a rigorous mathematical analysis.

Stewart, Ian. Letters to a Young Mathematician. Perseus, 2006.

The declared goal is "to give an inside view of the mathematical enterprise, and explain what it is really like to be a mathematician". Half the book is popular mathematics, and the other half is remarks on "being a mathematician". The book is well written, easy and fun to read, sensible throughout, and prospective mathematicians could only benefit from reading it. But I was disappointed (as a professional mathematician) to find few particularly new or individualistic insights in either half. The popular mathematics half relies on well-worn topics like "Platonism versus realism" and "can't computers solve everything?". And only the following three thoughts on being a mathematician struck me as particularly insightful.

(i) [as conclusion of "what is mathematics/mathematicians?" discussion] A mathematician is someone who sees opportunities for doing mathematics.

(ii) Being a research mathematician is akin to being a writer or an artist; any glamour that's apparent to outsiders fades quickly in the face of [the reality]. Your satisfaction must come from the high you get when you suddenly, for the first time, understand the problem you're working on .....

(iii) As your career develops, the worldwide mathematical community will be increasingly important to you. You will become part of it, and then you will have a home in every city on Earth.

A nice introductory chapter extols the breadth of uses of mathematics, and could be used by Math Dept web sites to recruit majors. There is also a well-balanced "pure or applied" chapter. But the rest of the book identifies "mathematics" as "theorem-proof mathematics", as illustrated by quotes such as

(i) There has been a spate of popular math books in recent years ...... there are even books on the applications of mathematics.

(ii) The true mathematician is not satisfied until the statement is proved.

This attitude is irritating to those of us who regard this identification as akin to identifying "visual art" with oil painting. What matters isn't the tools, it's how competently and creatively you use them.

A final irreverent thought: instead of A Mathematician's Apology, wouldn't The Screwtape Letters have made a more intriguing model?

Schoenberg, Frederic Paik. Introduction to Probability with Texas Hold'em Examples. Chapman and Hall, 2011.

A concise (140 pages) version of a first undergraduate course in mathematical probability -- a selection of key points found in typical, much longer, textbooks. The distinctive feature is an additional 20 pages of detailed study of some aspects of poker: "structured hand analysis; pot odds; luck and skill [in poker]". There is also an 8-page chapter on computer simulation and approximation.

Eckhardt, William. Paradoxes in Probability Theory. Springer, 2012.

See my amazon.com review.

Simon, Marc T. Your Intuition is Wrong! Dorrance, 1996.

Unpretentious slim volume of 29 multiple choice questions with little stories, both standard (birthday, matching, runs) and less standard (ballot theorem, arc sine law) intended to test the reader's intuition. Gives solutions without detailed calculations. Fun, but I doubt anyone has good enough intuition to guess answers without knowing beforehand or doing mental calculations.

Back to complete book list.