The Improbability Principle

by David J. Hand

The Improbability Principle CoverAfter making my way through The Improbability Principle, I came to a startling revelation: I really have to stop running out and buying books with positive reviews in MacLean’s. I suppose this very concisely shows my opinion on the book, but allow me to explain myself.

The Improbability Principle has a very interesting concept: offering theories as to why the highly improbable seems to happen all the time. I will grant that Hand’s explanations are very insightful, but getting there proved to be highly tedious. Having a rudimentary understanding of statistics and probability, the most painful to read were the basic concepts needed for these explanations. (I was glad to see the most basic of them relegated to the appendices, but I felt more could have been there.)

One of the largest failings of the book, however, is the fact that it strays away from the subject matter quite often, focusing less on the central argument and more on why Hand refuses to believe in miracles, extra-sensory perception, and Creationism. (The rant on Creationism was a particular low point in my mind, given as a very weak argument that should have been expanded upon or omitted entirely.) Things improve when he steers the discussion back to the subject, but, even then, much of it felt padded and verbose.

And there, I believe, is the main source of my dissatisfaction. Many of Hand’s theories come across very concisely, but he goes on and on giving examples and further talking without adding much to the discussion. I will say that many of the improbable statistics and anecdotes presented are enjoyable––to the extent that I frequently had to pause my reading in order to repeat the anecdotes to my wife––but there seem to be far more than necessary to make a point. Parts of The Improbability Principle were highly interesting but, padding removed, the book would be half its current length, in all probability.