Skip to main content

Dice World – Brian Clegg *****

As human beings we are adept at seeing patterns. It’s how we Dice World makes plain, reality is all too often driven by randomness, without a pattern in sight. At an entertaining canter, Brian Clegg takes us through the way superstition turns correlation into causality; why economists are so bad at predicting real human responses; and how the power of statistics can reveal hidden truths that, if it weren’t for the logical walkthroughs, you just wouldn’t believe. The book starts by showing us how the world seemed an ordered place – briefly in-line with Newton’s clockwork universe – and then how the cracks began to show when it proved impossible to accurately predict the movement of just three bodies in space.
Chaos and randomness intertwine – chaos technically predictable but practically impossible to do so, while true randomness, the behaviour at the heart of quantum theory is totally unpredictable but often fits neat distributions. You’ll meet the smartest person in the world – and strange creatures like Schrödinger’s cat and Maxwell’s demon; see why a window at night is a fiendishly complex quantum device with randomness and probability at its heart; and find out what’s going on with entropy, the end of the universe and free will. Oh and discover how to get the best prediction of whether or not someone owns a golden retriever.
In equal parts fascinating and mind-boggling this is a real revelation if you have any interest in why things happen (and why they go wrong). We’re no good at probability and we hate randomness. We rarely see either of them at work – and yet they’re everywhere. Clegg has a gift for making this kind of thing approachable and informative but still fun. With this book to hand
you’ve got your best chance of understanding just what’s going on in the universe; and to have some laughs along the way. Not to mention discover how to win a sports car rather than a goat. Which can’t be bad.
Paperback:  
Large Paperback:  
Kindle:  
Review by Peet Morris
Please note, this title is written by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

De/Cipher - Mark Frary ****

I was a little doubtful when I first saw this book. Although it has the intriguing tagline 'The greatest codes ever invented and how to crack them' the combination of a small format hardback and gratuitous illustrations made me suspect it would be a lightweight, minimal content, Janet and John approach to codes and ciphers. Thankfully, in reality Mark Frary manages to pack a remarkable amount of content into De/Cipher's slim form.

Not only do we get some history on and instructions to use a whole range of ciphers, there are engaging little articles on historical codebreakers and useful guidance on techniques to break the simpler ciphers. The broadly historical structure takes the reader through basic alphabetic manipulation, keys, electronic cryptography, one time pads and so on, all the way up to modern public key encryption and a short section on quantum cryptography. 

We even get articles on some of the best known unsolved ciphers, such as the Dorabella and the Voynich ma…

Paul McAuley - Four Way Interview

Paul McAuley won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel and has gone on to win the Arthur C. Clarke, British Fantasy, Sidewise and John W. Campbell Awards. He gave up his position as a research biologist to write full-time. He lives in London. His latest novel is Austral.


Why science fiction?

For one thing, I fell in love with science fiction at an early age, and haven’t yet fallen out of love with it (although I have flirted with other genres). For another, we’re living in an increasingly science-fictional present. Every day brings headlines that could have been ripped from a science-fiction story. Giant robot battle: Who knew a duel between chainsaw-armed mech suits could be so boring? for instance. Or, Roy Orbison hologram to embark on UK tour in 2018. And looming above all this, like Hokusai’s famous wave, are the ongoing changes caused by global warming and climate change, which is just one consequence of human activity having become the dominant force of change on the planet…

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…