Skip to main content

Statistics: a very short introduction – David J. Hand ****

These little pocket guides are inevitably quite variable in quality. Some just pack in the facts but aren’t at all readable – they’re fine as a quick introduction for students, but they get short shrift as popular science. On the whole, though, David J. Hand’s introduction to statistics succeeds in being very readable. I think he rather over-reached himself with his stated aim of proving that statistics is ‘the most exciting of disciplines’ – but he does make it clear why statisticians find it exciting, and what a powerful and ubiquitous field it is. Very few of the sciences, soft or hard, could manage without probability and statistics.
The first half of the book, where he lays the ground, is probably the best. Once he gets into probability, with its potential to be mind-boggling fun, he rather gets bogged down, in part because he introduces rather more technicalities, and gives us less real world examples, than he should. Things get rather worse when we get onto estimation, inference and modelling, with a slightly uncomfortable parallel line describing the Bayesian approach and the classical approach.
Despite this, if you are prepared to travel a little lightly through the second half, the book is the best simple introduction to statistics I’ve come across. it doesn’t tell you how to use the various techniques and tools it mentions, but at least gives a good picture of some of the toolkit available and how the choices involved are made. With my Operational Research background, I would have liked to see the book expanding into a few OR techniques, but that’s a minor consideration. Overall, a good addition to the series.
Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Cosmology for the Curious - Delia Perlov and Alex Vilenkin ***

In the recently published The Little Book of Black Holes we saw what I thought was pretty much impossible - a good, next level, general audience science title, spanning the gap between a typical popular science book and an introductory textbook, but very much in the style of popular science. Cosmology for the Curious does something similar, but coming from the other direction. This is an introductory textbook, intended for first year physics students, with familiar textbook features like questions to answer at the end of each chapter. Yet by incorporating some history and context, plus taking a more relaxed style in the writing, it's certainly more approachable than a typical textbook.

The first main section, The Big Bang and the Observable Universe not only covers basic big bang cosmology but fills in the basics of special and general relativity, Hubble's law, dark matter, dark energy and more. We then move onto the more speculative (this is cosmology, after all) aspects, brin…

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil deGrasse Tyson *****

When I reviewed James Binney’s Astrophysics: A Very Short Introduction earlier this year, I observed that the very word ‘astrophysics’ in a book’s title is liable to deter many readers from buying it. As a former astrophysicist myself, I’ve never really understood why it’s considered such a scary word, but that’s the way it is. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn, from Wikipedia, that this new book by Neil deGrasse Tyson ‘topped The New York Times non-fiction bestseller list for four weeks in the middle of 2017’.

Like James Binney, Tyson is a professional astrophysicist with a string of research papers to his name – but he’s also one of America’s top science popularisers, and that’s the hat he’s wearing in this book. While Binney addresses an already-physics-literate audience, Tyson sets his sights on a much wider readership. It’s actually very brave – and honest – of him to give physics such prominent billing; the book could easily have been given a more reader-friendly title such …

Once upon and Algorithm - Martin Erwig ***

I've been itching to start reading this book for some time, as the premise was so intriguing - to inform the reader about computer science and algorithms using stories as analogies to understand the process.

This is exactly what Martin Erwig does, starting (as the cover suggests) with Hansel and Gretel, and then bringing in Sherlock Holmes (and particularly The Hound of the Baskervilles), Indiana Jones, the song 'Over the Rainbow' (more on that in a moment), Groundhog Day, Back to the Future and Harry Potter.

The idea is to show how some aspect of the story - in the case of Hansel and Gretel, laying a trail of stones/breadcrumbs, then attempting to follow them home - can be seen as a kind of algorithm or computation and gradually adding in computing standards, such as searching, queues and lists, loops, recursion and more.

This really would have been a brilliant book if Erwig had got himself a co-author who knew how to write for the public, but sadly the style is mostly heavy…