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What's Luck Got to Do with It?
The History, Mathematics, and Psychology of the Gambler's Illusion
Joseph Mazur

Hardcover | 2010 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691138909
296 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 35 halftones. 10 line illus.
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Why do so many gamblers risk it all when they know the odds of winning are against them? Why do they believe dice are "hot" in a winning streak? Why do we expect heads on a coin toss after several flips have turned up tails? What's Luck Got to Do with It? takes a lively and eye-opening look at the mathematics, history, and psychology of gambling to reveal the most widely held misconceptions about luck. It exposes the hazards of feeling lucky, and uses the mathematics of predictable outcomes to show when our chances of winning are actually good.

Mathematician Joseph Mazur traces the history of gambling from the earliest known archaeological evidence of dice playing among Neolithic peoples to the first systematic mathematical studies of games of chance during the Renaissance, from government-administered lotteries to the glittering seductions of grand casinos, and on to the global economic crisis brought on by financiers' trillion-dollar bets. Using plenty of engaging anecdotes, Mazur explains the mathematics behind gambling--including the laws of probability, statistics, betting against expectations, and the law of large numbers--and describes the psychological and emotional factors that entice people to put their faith in winning that ever-elusive jackpot despite its mathematical improbability.

As entertaining as it is informative, What's Luck Got to Do with It? demonstrates the pervasive nature of our belief in luck and the deceptive psychology of winning and losing.


"From the dice-playing of Neolithic peoples to modern lotteries and casino capitalism, he tracks the history of placing bets. He explains both the mathematics of chance and the psychological and emotional factors that entice some people to risk it all to win that improbable jackpot."--Joanne Baker, Nature

"In What's Luck Got to Do With It?, mathematician Joseph Mazur explores these misconceptions, taking the reader on an entertaining and accessible tour of the history of gambling, the way mathematicians quantify luck and the psychology that keeps gamblers returning to the table. A book worth taking a chance on."--New Scientist

"Doubtless aimed at the interested gambler, the frequent cultural references, anecdotes and intervention of psychology nevertheless make the book appealing reading."--Times Higher Education

"Both an analysis of the idea of luck, the gambling impulse, and a history of it, stretching back to Neolithic times, the Renaissance (Francis Drake and Ben Johnson often played hazard--an early form of dice) up to the age of one-arm bandits."--Steven Carroll, The Age

"Because Mazur's not judgmental about luck and gambling, but is analytical, the book is a winner. It's not just a mathematician telling us that we'll never hit a million-dollar jackpot--it's a mathematician looking at why we continue to hope to hit that jackpot. This book should be required reading for anyone in the casino business, and anyone who spends more than a fraction of their disposable income on gambling should find it informative, if nothing else. It's a reasoned, but also passionate, search for the meaning of luck that may change the way you look at a pair of dice--or your mortgage."

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This book has been translated into:

  • Japanese

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