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Chance: the life of games & the game of life – J P Marques de Sa ***

Chance is a fascinating subject. Probability has a huge impact on our lives, but we have a very poor natural grasp of it (hence all the people entering lotteries). In this practically sized paperback, Engineering professor J P Marques de Sa sets out to explain probability from scratch.
It’s a bit of a frustrating read because it could have been so much better. Marques de Sa is occasionally quite lyrical in his description of chance processes – but very soon this book settles down into being much more of a textbook than a popular science title. Despite the famous advice given to Stephen Hawking that every equation halves the readership of a book, I don’t mind a few equations in a popular science book, but they shouldn’t be a means of driving the argument forward – you should be able to get the point of the book while skipping over the equations, and that just isn’t the case here. They are fundamental from the beginning, and soon they are most of the argument.
I would also have liked to have seen a bit more of ‘the game of life’ and a bit less of ‘the life of games’ – there was too much concentration on games, which are fine to introduce probability, but it would have been good if we got more into practical applications as the book built.
What we end up with is a title that really is rather a good introductory probability book – I would recommend it, for instance, for science students – but is certainly not recommendable as popular science reading material.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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