Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Unfinished Game – Keith Devlin


The Unfinished Game - Keith Devlin

The Unfinished Game – Keith Devlin

In my previous (before children) life I taught maths and I still like maths (learning it, tutoring it, etc.).

First, this book had an easy conversational style – you don’t have to be into maths to understand or enjoy it. It was about a series of letters written between Fermat and Pascal that lead to probability theory. It is hard for us to imagine a world without probability, but people thought it was impossible to predict future events (it was the will of god).

Blurb …

Before the mid-seventeenth century, scholars generally agreed that it was impossible to predict something by calculating mathematical outcomes. One simply could not put a numerical value on the likelihood that a particular event would occur. Even the outcome of something as simple as a dice roll or the likelihood of showers instead of sunshine was thought to lie in the realm of pure, unknowable chance.The issue remained intractable until Blaise Pascal wrote to Pierre de Fermat in 1654, outlining a solution to the ?unfinished game” problem: how do you divide the pot when players are forced to end a game of dice before someone has won? The idea turned out to be far more seminal than Pascal realized. From it, the two men developed the method known today as probability theory.

In The Unfinished Game, mathematician and NPR commentator Keith Devlin tells the story of this correspondence and its remarkable impact on the modern world: from insurance rates, to housing and job markets, to the safety of cars and planes, calculating probabilities allowed people, for the first time, to think rationally about how future events might unfold.

Mr (Dr?) Devlin presents a piece of the correspondence and then explains it – he does a great job of simplifying complicated ideas. I found this book fascinating. The different writing styles of Fermat and Pascal, the fact that Pascal struggled a bit with probability (that was quite reassuring).

More reviews …



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Filed under Non-Fiction, Recommended

Cat and Fiddle – Lesley Jorgensen

Cat and Fiddle - Lesley Jorgensen

Cat and Fiddle – Lesley Jorgensen

I have a few books for which I need to write reviews – it is just a matter of finding the time. I read a review of Cat and Fiddle in The Australian (same article as The Rosie Project) and I was intrigued. I popped along to my favourite book store to get a copy – I do try to support the local independent book store.

I really enjoyed this novel. It had lots of overt references to Pride and Prejudice (even direct quotes – I don’t have my copy at the moment so can’t provide quotes), but it was so much more as well. Part clash of cultures (East meets West), part romance, definitely a comment on current social mores. All written with a light, amusing touch.

Here’s the blurb …

Cat & Fiddle centres on two families whose lives become entwined at the country estate of Bourne Abbey. While Dr Choudhury is busy advising Henry Bourne on the restoration of the abbey to its former glory, his wife’s main concern is marrying off their three children, whose chances of good matches are dwindling by the day. Thankfully, the royal family always seems to have a solution to her problems: how to find a wife for a reluctant son; how to manage a difficult father-in-law; and, of course, how not to deal with an inter-faith relationship.

Then there’s the Bourne family. Henry’s wife, Thea, is feeling lost, now that she’s got the lifestyle she’s always longed for. His elder brother, Richard, a successful London barrister, finds himself increasingly drawn to the family home — the inheritance that he’s given up. Meanwhile, Henry just wants to keep the peace, but that’s proving to be tricky …

And, finally, there’s Bourne Abbey itself: the repository of an ancient mystery that links the histories and cultures of the Bournes and the Choudhurys in a way that no one could have anticipated.

This novel is full of action, melodrama and violence and yet is funny and touching. It is about how family can define you, but also rescue you.

More reviews …–fiddle-20130131-2dmmq.html

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Filed under Fiction, Recommended