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Thursday, February 27,2014

Book reviews: Notes from Neil

Coincidence? I Think Not

by Neil Rajala

Thursday, Feb. 27 — Two books dealing with the subject of coincidences - one fiction, one non. Both books address the concepts of probability and chance in delightful ways, and it's no coincidence that I put them together this week. Here's what we're reading:



THE IMPROBABILITY PRINCIPLE

David J. Hand

I read an enlightening math factoid many years ago that stuck with me because I thought it cleverly illuminated our inherent blindness to numbers.The author was explaining large-scale economics and held that people hear the words "million" and "billion" thrown around without fully appreciating the size difference between the two. He offered a comparison in units of time. A million seconds equals roughly eleven and a half days - a billion seconds is just shy of thirty-two years. And yet, when we hear the terms referring to dollars of expenditure or debt we don't instinctively sense them to be as vastly different as they are.

Mr. Hand provides many such fascinating illustrations in his new book. He introduces the reader to important concepts of probability mathematics, like The Law of Very Large Numbers, to explain how what seem to be amazing coincidences and even "miracles" become far less unlikely when the numbers are crunched. In fact, events that seem like impossible long-shots can be shown to be almost inevitable. As is always the case, understanding the math heightens our understanding of the world. kobo eBook



COINCIDENCE
J. W. Ironmonger

Mr. Ironmonger knows about probability math, and uses it to great effect in this splendid novel. Azalea Lewis is abandoned at a fairground by her mother at the age of three. The case isn't solved for decades (and then by coincidence), and she finds herself in the foster care system. As the truth of her life is slowly revealed, she realizes how strongly the shattering events she's survived are connected to each other by what seem like unignorable coincidences. Azalea sees a plan for her life over which she has no control, even predicting the day of her death.

She turns to Thomas Post, one of Britain's leading mathematicians specializing in probability, who tries, even as he's falling in love with her, to convince Azalea that she's in control of her destiny. The coincidences keep piling up, their conversation and relationship become more intense, and the resolution of their opposing viewpoints is surprising and very satisfying. kobo eBook



THIS IS HAPPENING

Bridget Watson Payne

I'm surprised this book took so long to appear. With the explosive popularity of the Instagram app on social media, there were bound to be hazy, dreamy images with real artistic merit among the selfies and kitten photos. Ms. Payne collects over 200 of them in this small-size anthology, perfectly highlighting how the Instagram "look" can lend itself to beautiful landscapes, still lives, portraits and more in the right hands. kobo eBook


Schuler Books Inventory Week
It's that time of year again; the inventory in the stores needs to be counted. A couple of hours changes for our Lansing customers to be aware of - Tuesday, March 4 the Okemos Schuler will close at 8:00pm instead of 9:00. On Wednesday, March 5 the Eastwood Schuler will close at 8:00 instead of 9:30.

At all three stores (Alpine will be continuing its closeout sale) used book purchasing is going to be spotty until after the inventories are finished, so please call ahead if you have books to sell.

A special thanks this week to the folks who joined me on Tuesday for our book talk in the 28th Street Schuler Studio! Despite the frigid, icy conditions outside, the book discussion inside was lively and a lot of fun. Ninety minutes went by in a flash, and folks went home with a lot of free books.

Until next week,

Neil

NeilNeil Rajala is Currently Director of Community & Business Services for Schuler Books, Neil's decade with the company has included the wearing of many different hats - and lots and lots of reading.

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