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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.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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