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What the Luck?: The Surprising Role of Chance in our Everyday Lives

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What the Luck?: The Surprising Role of Chance in our Everyday Lives

Gary Smith

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ISBN 13: 978-1-4683-1553-0
Trim Size: 5 3/8'' x 8''
Overlook Press

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The acclaimed author of Standard Deviations takes on the statistics of luck in a manner “á la Freakonomics, Outliers, and The Black Swan.” —Kirkus, starred review


  • In Israel, pilot trainees who were praised for doing well subsequently performed worse, while trainees who were shouted at for doing poorly performed better.
  • Highly intelligent women tend to marry men who are less intelligent.
  • Students who get the highest scores in third grade generally get lower scores in fourth grade.


  • It’s wrong to conclude that shouting is a more effective tool.
  • It’s wrong to conclude that women choose men whose intelligence does not intimidate them.
  • It’s wrong to conclude that schools are failing their students.

There’s one reason for each of these truths: a concept called regression to the mean. It explains how we can be misled by luck in our day-to-day lives. An insufficient appreciation of luck and chance can wreak all kinds of mischief in sports, education, medicine, business, politics, and more. Perfectly natural random variation can lead us to attach meaning to the meaningless and in What the Luck?, statistician Gary Smith explains how an understanding of luck can change the way we see just about every aspect of our lives . . . and can help us learn to rely less on random chance, and more on truth.

“What The Luck? is a tremendously entertaining and revealing read. A quick and engrossing piece of work, it is a must read for those who approach the world with educated insight! Two thumbs up!” —Simeon Nestorov, CFA, Managing Director, Berkeley Square Inc.

“What the Luck? is a valuable arrow of sobering knowledge to keep in your quiver at all times.” —Seattle Book Review

“Read this book. Then give it to your family and friends. There is no other single idea that will better improve your understanding of the world, and judgment of the future, than regression-to-the-mean. Drawing on education, health, politics, business, and sports, Smith shows us how others have gotten it wrong and how you can get it right.” —Cade Massey, Professor, Wharton School of Business

Gary Smith is the Fletcher Jones Professor of Economics at Pomona College in Claremont, California. He received his Ph.D. in Economics from Yale University and taught there as an Assistant Professor for seven years. He has won two teaching awards and has written (or co-authored) eighty academic papers and twelve books including Standard Deviations: Flawed Assumptions, Tortured Data, and, Other Ways to Lie With Statistics, published by Overlook. His research has been featured by Bloomberg Radio Network, CNBC, The Brian Lehrer Show, Forbes, The New York Times,Wall Street Journal, Motley Fool, Newsweek, and BusinessWeek.

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