The Unfinished Game

The Unfinished Game : Pascal, Fermat, and the Seventeenth-Century Letter That Made the World Modern

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Before the mid-seventeenth century, scholars generally agreed that it was impossible to predict something by calculating mathematical outcomes. One simply could not put a numerical value on the likelihood that a particular event would occur. Even the outcome of something as simple as a dice roll or the likelihood of showers instead of sunshine was thought to lie in the realm of pure, unknowable chance. The issue remained intractable until Blaise Pascal wrote to Pierre de Fermat in 1654, outlining a solution to the "unfinished game" problem: how do you divide the pot when players are forced to end a game of dice before someone has won? The idea turned out to be far more seminal than Pascal realized. From it, the two men developed the method known today as probability theory. In The Unfinished Game, mathematician and NPR commentator Keith Devlin tells the story of this correspondence and its remarkable impact on the modern world: from insurance rates, to housing and job markets, to the safety of cars and planes, calculating probabilities allowed people, for the first time, to think rationally about how future events might more

Product details

  • Hardback | 208 pages
  • 147.32 x 210.82 x 25.4mm | 340.19g
  • The Perseus Books Group
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 25 b/w illustrations
  • 0465009107
  • 9780465009107
  • 1,400,741

Review quote

"" "This informative book is a lively, quick read for anyone who wonders about the science of predicting what's next and how deeply it affects our lives." "New Scientist" "This breezy book shows why probability theory, though not Pascal and Fermat's last, was undoubtedly their most important theorem." "Washington Times" "Mr. Devlin shares the great mathematicians' correspondence, walks readers through critical mathematical problems and contextualizes it all in a lively narrative. The book is a refreshing testimony to the rewards of thinking rationally about how future events might unfold.... [A] rewarding read.... Mr. Devlin does a remarkable job of showing just how much derived from the history-changing Pascal-Fermat correspondence." "MAA Online" "This book is not only about mathematics. It is also a tale of how mathematics, and science in general, is really done.... Very well written and accessible to everyone.... This is highly recommended reading.... [It] should find a place in every mathematician's library." "Booklist" "Devlin depicts Fermat as leading Pascal toward correct understanding of probability's underlying logic, through quotation of the entire letter and a characteristically clear explanation of the logic of probability with which Pascal struggled. A rewarding account for math buffs." David Berlinski, author of "The Devil's Delusion" and "A Tour of the Calculus" "I've been a faithful reader of Keith Devlin's work for a long time, and this is the best thing I've seen from his pen. It combines a lightness of touch, an understanding of the sources, an absence of anysort of intrusive self, and a sensitive and error-free presentation of the mathematics." William Dunham, author of "The Calculus Gallery" and "Journey Through Genius" "Keith Devlin's delightful little book traces the origins of probability theory and introduces the mathematicians--from Pascal and Fermat to Bernoulli and de Moivre--who created it." Amir Aczel, author of "Fermat's Last Theorem" and "Chance" "In this enchanting romp through the early history of probability theory, Devlin does a great job explaining the role probability plays in modern life, and shows how probabilistic reasoning, which we almost take for granted today, was a product of the minds of brilliant mathematicians almost four centuries ago." "Entertainment Weekly" "Surprisingly engaging."show more
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