Our fascination with chance dates to prehistoric times, when cavemen rolled dice made of sheep bones. Ever since then, games of chance have been prevalent in many cultures. There is some evidence in the Talmud that rabbis toyed with concepts of probability to determine tax distributions, paternity in cases of adultery, and other Issues where uncertainty played a role. But the idea of mathematical probability theory did not take shape until the 1600s, when Blaise Pascal tried to help a friend who had asked for help toward beating the casinos.

We still don't know with certainty who will get struck by lightening, or profit from a stock portfolio, but Aczel shows that the tenets of probability theory can allow people to make educated guesses about the likelihood of a random event. Aczel, a mathematician and an author of many popular math books, breaks down probability theory for readers and clearly shows how a working knowledge of it can help anyone navigate the decisions he or she must make every day. Thunders Mouth Pr, , 161 p., b&w illus., hardcover, $21.00.

COPYRIGHT Science Service, Inc.

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