How to Predict the Unpredictable: The Art of Outsmarting Almost Everyone by William Poundstone

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How to Predict the Unpredictable: The Art of Outsmarting Almost Everyone by William Poundstone

Category: Reference
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: With advice and explanations on many areas of life this could give you the edge that you need and save you money.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: September 2014
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1780744070

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William Poundstone believes that we are all in the business of predicting, whether it be something as minor as playing rock, paper, scissors to pay a bar bill though to anticipating how the housing or stock markets are going to move. Now, I'm not particularly competitive - if whatever it is means that much to someone else then I'd rather let them have it - so this book didn't appeal to me on the basis of doing better than someone else, but I was interested in how it might be possible to predict what is going to happen. So, care to predict how it stacked up?

First of all, it's a darned good read. We knew from Are You Smart Enough To Work At Google? that William Poundstone writes engagingly and is capable of explaining complex ideas in a way that a generalist like me can understand and relate to. That hasn't changed. As someone who doesn't gamble I've never had any belief in winning streaks (or whatever else you might call them) and as a former investigator for what was then the Inland Revenue I know that what looks random usually isn't, but I'm probably in a minority here. If you do believe in winning streaks or that you can create something random then you should read this book to put you on the right track.

One of the most fascinating chapters is the one on how to tackle multiple choice tests. Obviously knowing the correct answers is the best way forward, but Poundstone gives some excellent advice on how to fill in the gaps in your knowledge. On true/false tests 'true' answers are more common, but if there are four options, the second choice is the best one to go for. Always go for a different choice (A, B, C, D) from the previous question - and avoid going for an answer that's too different from all the others. The one which I've found most useful is to go for the answer with the most wording - it's difficult to think up a convincing statement that's incorrect. There's other advice about looking at the wording of the question - and it's all gold dust, particularly if you have an important exam coming up.

I was less impressed by the chapter on the lottery (or 'the tax on the poor' as I prefer to think of it). There's excellent advice on which numbers to choose - but these are not the numbers which are likely to win the lottery. They're the numbers which would mean that you'd be less likely to share your jackpot in the unlikely event that the numbers came up. But - if you're worried that you might have to share your millions with a few other people then I'm not the person you should be listening to. More useful is the advice on when the best retail bargains are likely to occur - this could save you real money.

The chapter on internet passwords should be required reading for anyone who puts themselves at risk on the internet. It's probably not important if you only have passwords on gaming sites where no money or personal information is at risk, but other than that you should read about the lengths to which people will go to discover your password. And please don't snigger when you realise how many people use 'password' or '123456789' as a password.

Most important is the advice on buying a house or investing in the stockmarket. These sections are exhaustive, but worth detailed study - they could save, or make you a great deal of money.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag.

For more advice on investing we can recommend The Long and the Short of it: A Guide to Finance and Investment for Normally Intelligent People Who Aren't in the Industry by John Kay. You might also appreciate Prediction: How to See and Shape the Future with Game Theory by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita.

Buy How to Predict the Unpredictable: The Art of Outsmarting Almost Everyone by William Poundstone at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How to Predict the Unpredictable: The Art of Outsmarting Almost Everyone by William Poundstone at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy How to Predict the Unpredictable: The Art of Outsmarting Almost Everyone by William Poundstone at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How to Predict the Unpredictable: The Art of Outsmarting Almost Everyone by William Poundstone at Amazon.com.


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