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Publisher's Summary

Bayes' rule appears to be a straightforward, one-line theorem: by updating our initial beliefs with objective new information, we get a new and improved belief. To its adherents, it is an elegant statement about learning from experience. To its opponents, it is subjectivity run amok.
In the first-ever account of Bayes' rule for general readers and listeners, Sharon Bertsch McGrayne explores this controversial theorem and the human obsessions surrounding it. She traces its discovery by an amateur mathematician in the 1740s through its development into roughly its modern form by French scientist Pierre Simon Laplace. She reveals why respected statisticians rendered it professionally taboo for 150 years - at the same time that practitioners relied on it to solve crises involving great uncertainty and scanty information, even breaking Germany's Enigma code during World War II, and explains how the advent of off-the-shelf computer technology in the 1980s proved to be a game-changer. Today, Bayes' rule is used everywhere from DNA decoding to Homeland Security.
Drawing on primary source material and interviews with statisticians and other scientists, The Theory That Would Not Die is the riveting account of how a seemingly simple theorem ignited one of the greatest controversies of all time.
©2011 Sharon Bertsch McGrayne (P)2012 Tantor
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Critic Reviews

"If you are not thinking like a Bayesian, perhaps you should be." ( New York Times Book Review)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Lynn on 07-15-12

Read Up on Baye's Before Reading

Sharon McGrayne tackles Baye’s Rule in her volume The Theory that Would Not Die. Along the way she shows how the ‘rule’ has gone under only to reappear in different times, be used in different places, and gather influence under varied circumstances. I found the narrative engaging and the history she presents informative. I wish, however, that she had had an early chapter discussing what Baye’s Rule is, how it works, and what it means to users. Baye’s Rule is well available to those with simple math ability and it seems the book would have a wider audience had she made this allowance. So, if you are familiar with Baye’s Theorem pick up the book and turn some pages. If you are not familiar with the theorem, read up on it a little and then turn those pages. There are unexpected insights in every chapter. The narration of Laural Merlington is good.

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11 of 11 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars
By Ronald on 05-17-12

Poorly read

What did you like about this audiobook?

Did a good job of constructing a story about a particular statistical technique. She overdoes it. Bayes theorm is not the same as the story of Seabiscuit.

What did you find wrong about the narrator's performance?

At first I thought she was a computer generated voice. Her cadence was was odd, adding syllables at random. Many names were mispronounced.

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9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By David Steinsaltz on 08-08-15

New developments in statistics breathlessly told

It's a pretty good history of Bayesian statistic, giving a good overview of the reasons why people are excited about it. Perhaps overly enthusiastic, both exaggerating the differences to other types of statistical reasoning and never making it entirely clear what distinguishes Bayesian from frequentist approaches, nor indeed what statistical reasoning is about to begin with.
The narrator is not the worst I have heard, and generally did a reasonable job of making an understandably modulated aural text. But as is often the case with scientific topics, no thought was given to finding a reader who is actually familiar with the vocabulary or the people. Thus, "theorist" consistently became "theororist", John von Neumann became "Newman", and Jerzy Neyman became "Neiman". Among others. It was still eminently listenable, but irritating.

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By FergusG on 04-24-17

Interesting book let down by poor production

Would you be willing to try another one of Laural Merlington’s performances?

The general narration was rather flat but the lack of research into common pronunciation was extremely grating. Not just the foreign (and tricky) words like "Aberystwyth" but even common words are tripped over.

Any additional comments?

I would have preferred a little more detail into the actual theorem.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Simon Lilburn on 09-18-17

An engaging account of subjectivist probability

A well researched popular account of the figures central to the rise of subjectivist probability in business, science, and the military. This is a weaving path through many fields, united by a preference on the part of the motley group of practitioners for using priors, more elaborated probability models, and Bayesian decision theory. The audiobook was delivered with clear narration and brought character to the work, enriching the story.

My single frustration was with the level of detail provided: often some of the descriptions of statistical models and techniques were vague, where additional details would have made for a more complete account of the work undertaken—and provided substance to claims about the novelty and ingenuity of the work itself. There is the occasional misrepresentation about some aspect of probability (particularly in what frequentist statistics can and cannot do), but these are not egregious and are usually just due to minor omissions of qualifying statements.

A recommended book for anyone who wants to hear about the contest of ideas at the boundary between mathematical formalism and uncertainty. In particular, I would recommend this book for those who work employs statistical inference to provide more context (and motivation and excitement) for the structure of the field today.

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