Applying Statistics to the Important, Unexpected or Fascinating

Compiled by Ramón V. León, University of Tennessee.


·       To get credit for a book report on any of these books students need to use this book report template.

·       Reports on short videos and the like can be more informal. In particular, students would not need to use the template to write their reports.

·       15% of your grade comes from the reports

Stat 537 book and video report requirements

Reports on books 1 and 2 and video 4

Stat 560 book and video report requirements

Reports on books 1 and 3 and video 4

List of book and videos



1.    Principles of Applied Statistics by D. R. Cox and Christl A. Donnelly. David Cox and Christl Donnelly distil decades of scientific experience into usable principles for the successful application of statistics, showing how good statistical strategy shapes every stage of an investigation. As you advance from research or policy question, to study design, through modeling and interpretation, and finally to meaningful conclusions, this book will be a valuable guide. D. R. Cox is one of the most revered statistician alive for his contributions to XX century statistics.

2.    Calculated Risks: How to Know When Numbers Deceive You by Gerd Gigerenzer. This important book not only shows how one can make mistakes interpreting probabilistic statements in the press and such, but develops an approach for thinking about probability that one can use to avoid mistakes and make probabilistic statements meaningful to the intelligent layman. This book has had substantial impact on how probability is taught to doctors.

3.    Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society by Jim Manzi. This book gives criteria for effective experimentation in many areas from astronomy to social policy.

4.    The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes' Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne. This book received rave reviews in the New York Times Book Reviews, Scientific American and Science magazine.


5.    The Danger of Science Denial by Michael Specter. This TED talks discusses numerous dangerous mistakes that the public makes because they do not understand science or even worse deny it.


6.    Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Selected by the New York Times as one of the ten best books of 2011. Daniel Kahneman was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics. He is notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, behavioral economics and hedonic psychology. With Amos Tversky and others, Kahneman established a cognitive basis for common human errors using heuristics and biases. Many of the errors that he identified they pointed out are the result of a poor understanding of probability and statistics.


7.    The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.). This was a NYT best-seller for two years; and even now is one the top selling paperbacks listed in the New York Times (NYT).  The new ideas presented in this book are considered very important by top thinkers such as Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman the seminal thinker with Amos Tversky of Behavioral Economics. Personally, this book changed in a radical way how I think about the application of the normal distribution to answer questions in the real world. Other, share my experience. One of the applications of his thinking concerns the failure of the risk models used in finance in anticipating the (almost?) financial breakdown resulting from the sub-prime loan crisis.

8.    Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do (Expanded Edition)  by Andrew Gelman. A masterful use of data to understand why voters vote the way they do. I have not read this book but will as I teach the class.  I lieu of my commentary here are excerpts from three book reviews:


·       This book already analyzes far more data than do most. On that note, it is worth lauding another of this book's strengths: its rich graphical presentation of evidence. Its numerous figures often allow the reader to see the data and to draw one's own inferences, and they render the book accessible to those with little statistical training. -- Gabriel S. Lenz, Public Opinion Quarterly


·       Gelman and a group of fellow political scientists crunch numbers and draw graphs, arriving at a picture that refutes the [idea] . . . of poor red-states voting Republican against their economic interests. Instead, Gelman persuasively argues, the poor in both red states and blue still mostly vote Democratic, and the rich, nationally speaking, overwhelmingly vote Republican. -- Leo Carey, New Yorker

·       Gelman works his way, state by state, to help us better understand the relationship of class, culture, and voting. The book is a terrific read and offers much insight into the changing electoral landscape. -- Sudhir Venkatesh, Freakonomics blog

9.    The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives  by Leonard Mlodinow. A wonderful read that made it to the NYT’s best-sellers list. Mlodinow is one of the best contemporary popular science writers and a physicist. He coauthored with the physicist Stephen Hawking the book The Gran Design which also made it to the NYT’s best-sellers list. A friend of mine who is a professional physicist found the philosophical ideas in this book about physics and its applications to cosmology important.

10.Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception by Charles Seife


11.The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick. Everything about information theory and the ideas that led to it.

12.Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future: The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Today's Computers by John MacCormick You Do by Kaiser Fung

13.Numbers Rule Your World: The Hidden Influence of Probabilities and Statistics on Everything by Kaiser Fung

14.Against The Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter L. Bernstein. How the modern understanding of risk is applied to the stock market, insurance and many other areas. This book, though aimed at the laymen does not shy away from some advance mathematical concepts such the notion of the Markowitz efficient frontiers.

15.The Emergence of Probability: A Philosophical Study of Early Ideas about Probability, Introduction and Statistical Inference by Ian Hacking. Hacking is one of the greatest Twentieth Century philosophers of science. I read this book about thirty years ago as a graduate student. This book is actually very easy to read.

16.The Taming of Chance by Ian Hacking. This book was selected by The Modern Library as one of the 100 most important non-fiction books published in English in the twentieth century. I have only read the beginning of this book, but I found I read fascinating. Since I cannot comment on it myself here is Amazon’s description of it:

·       In this important new study Ian Hacking continues the enquiry into the origins and development of certain characteristic modes of contemporary thought undertaken in such previous works as his best-selling Emergence of Probability. Professor Hacking shows how by the late nineteenth century it became possible to think of statistical patterns as explanatory in themselves, and to regard the world as not necessarily deterministic in character. Combining detailed scientific historical research with characteristic philosophic breath and verve, The Taming of Chance brings out the relations among philosophy, the physical sciences, mathematics and the development of social institutions, and provides a unique and authoritative analysis of the "probabilization" of the Western world.


17.The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies by Bryan Caplan. This technical, but still accessible book shows how voters vote against their interests because they lack an elementary knowledge of statistics and economics. A large number of empirical studies are presented by the author to buttress their conclusions. The truth is that I did not read this book (except for the beginning) so my comments here are largely based on some book reviews that I read (though I own the book.) I simply found the book very dry and boring for me to want to read it, in spite of all my good intentions because this book is supposed to be an important book that breaks new ground in the scientific study of voter behavior. One the basis of the research in this book Nicholas Kristof of the NYT made a strong argument that elementary statistics and economics should be part of every high school curricula.

18.Scientific Reasoning: The Bayesian Approach, Second Edition by Colin Howson and Peter Urbach. This book is somewhat hard to read, but it is still accessible to the intelligent layman. This book discusses what the authors think is wrong with classical statistics and how the Bayesian approach overcomes these problems. Bayesian methods have been almost fully accepted by applied statistician since new computational techniques were developed that made the application of Bayesian statistics practical.

19.The Tiger That Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers by Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot. Errors that people make interpreting statistics reported in the press. Short and a lot of fun to read with a lot of practical insights.

20.Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences by John Allen Paulos. This book was a NYT best-seller. Another great book on the consequences of ignorance about mathematics and derived sciences such as statistics. This book led to many more books of the kind by other authors because (I think) Paulos book made so much money.

21.Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum

22.THE FIRST MEASURED CENTURY: An Illustrated Guide to Trends in America, 1900–2000 by Theodore Caplow, Louis Hicks and Ben J. Wattenberg is a book about social change in the United States during the twentieth century. It relies on statistical trends to tell that awesome story.  This is the book accompanying a three-hour PBS series for which the footing is available and the book is available free at their web site.

23.Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart by Ian Ayres. This very easy to read book discusses how statistics gives a competitive advantage to businesses that uses it, especially, regression and randomized comparative studies. The  book has about fifty interesting applications including how to predict the quality of wine, how to predict which potential recruits will turn out to be good baseball players in the major leagues, and which movies will do well based on their script. This book is great for those who like to learn how one can use statistics to make businesses more competitive. This book would also be of great interest to the young who would like to see what a professional statistician can do.

24.The Numerati by Stephen Baker. How assorted number crunchers use our shopping, blogging, phoning and Web surfing habits to track and influence our behavior. These people sometimes know more about us than we do. This book would also be of great interest to the young who would like to see what a professional statistician can do.

25.Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis. How the Oakland Athletics used statistics to almost get to the World Series in spite of having one the smallest budget of any major baseball team in the league. This book would be of great interest to the young and the young in spirit. This book led to the movie Money Ball starting Brad Pitt.

26.How to Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff (Author) and Irving Geis (Illustrator). This is a classic that one could say almost every statistician owns. It was one of the first books that discussed how badly presented statistical plots in the press mislead us.

27.The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century by David Salsburg. A very light introduction to the history of statistics in the Twentieth Century. Light on concepts and full of fluff, but it has great stories about the statisticians who developed statistics in the Twentieth Century.