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Against the Gods


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix Introduction 1 TO 1200: BEGINNINGS 1. The Winds of the Greeks and the Role of the Dice 11 2. As Easy as I, II, III 23 1200-1700: A THOUSAND OUTSTANDING FACTS 3. The Renaissance Gambler 39 4. The French Connection 57 5. The Remarkable Notions of the Remarkable Notions Man 73 1700-1900: MEASUREMENT UNLIMITED 6. Considering the Nature of Man 99 7. The Search for Moral Certainty 116 8. The Supreme Law of Unreason 135 9. The Man with the Sprained Brain 152 10. Peapods and Perils 172 11. The Fabric of Felicity 187 1900-1960: CLOUDS OF VAGUENESS AND THE DEMAND FOR PRECISION 12. The Measure of Our Ignorance 197 13. The Radically Distinct Notion 215 14. The Man Who Counted Everything Except Calories 231 15. The Strange Case of the Anonymous Stockbroker 247 DEGREES OF BELIEF:EXPLORING UNCERTAINTY 16. The Failure of Invariance 269 17. The Theory Police 284 18. The Fantastic System of Side Bets 304 19. Awaiting the Wildness 329 Notes 339 Bibliography 353 Name Index 365 Subject Index 369

About the Author

PETER L. BERNSTEIN is President of Peter L. Bernstein, Inc., economic consultants to institutional investors. Mr. Bernstein is the author of six books in economics and finance, including the bestselling Capital Ideas: The Improbable Origins of Modern Wall Street, as well as many articles in the professional and popular press. He is the Editor of The Portable MBA in Investment (Wiley) and was the Founding Editor of The Journal of Portfolio Management.


Risk management, which assumes that future risks can be understood, measured and to some extent predicted, is the focus of this solid, thoroughgoing history. Probability theory, pioneered by 17th-century French mathematicians Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat, has made possible the design of great bridges, electric power utilities and insurance policies. The statistical sampling methods invented by dour Swiss scientist Jacob Bernoulli undergird diverse activities such as the testing of new drugs, stock-picking and wine tasting. Bernstein (Capital Ideas) animates his narrative with a colorful cast of risk-analyzers, including gambling addict Girolamo Cardano, 16th-century Italian physician to the Pope; and John Maynard Keynes, whose concerns over economic uncertainty compelled him to recommend an active, interventionist role for government. Bernstein also traces the development of business forecasting, game theory, insurance and derivatives, and surveys recent advances in risk forecasting made possible through chaos theory and by the development of neural networks. (Oct.)

AGAINST THE GODS appeared in the "Washington Is Also Reading..." section of The Washington Post Book World. The book is described as, "A comprehensive history of man's efforts to understand risk and probability, from ancient gamblers in Greece to modern chaos theory."-The Washington Post Book World, September 20, 1998

For several centuries, mathematics has been the language of the exact sciences. Only in the 20th century has mathematics become predominant in other fields, particularly economics and finance. In this book, Bernstein (Capital Ideas: The Improbable Origins of Modern Wall Street, LJ 12/91), head of an economic consulting firm, traces the development of probability theory from its beginnings in analyzing games of chance, through its application to statistical theory and insurance, up to its present use in developing investment strategies to control risk. He includes excellent sections on portfolio analysis and on investments in derivatives. Bernstein clearly describes the people, their work, and the events that have revolutionized the thinking on Wall Street. A worthwhile acquisition for business and math collections.‘Harold D. Shane, Baruch Coll., CUNY

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