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FLUKE The Math and Myth of Coincidence (Basic Books, 2016).


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What are the chances? This is the question we ask ourselves when we encounter the freakiest and most seemingly impossible coincidences, like the woman who won the lottery four times or the fact that Lincoln’s dreams foreshadowed his own assassination.

But in fact, when we look at coincidences mathematically, we can see that the odds are a lot better than any of us would have thought. In Fluke, mathematician and math popularizer Joseph Mazur has us take a second look at the seemingly improbable, sharing with us an entertaining guide to understanding the most astounding and surprising moments in our lives. He takes us on a tour of the mathematical concepts of probability, such as the law of large numbers and the birthday paradox, and combines these concepts with lively anecdotes of flukes from around the world. How do you explain finding your college copy of Moby Dick in a used bookstore on the Seine on your first visit to Paris? How can a jury be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that DNA found at the scene of a heinous crime did not get there by some fluke? Should we be surprised if strangers named Maria and Francisco, seeking each other in a hotel lobby, accidentally meet the wrong Francisco and the wrong Maria, another pair of strangers also looking for each other? The answer is we probably shouldn’t. As Mazur reveals: if there is any likelihood that something could happen, no matter how small, it is bound to happen to someone at some time.

Delving into the mathematics of our poetic twists of fate, Mazur has written a book that will appeal to anyone who has ever wondered how all of the tiny decisions and coincidences that happen in our lives add up to what can seem like an impossibly improbable whole. A must-read for math enthusiasts and story-tellers alike, Fluke helps us to understand the true nature of chance, and thus, of life itself.