Wednesday, June 27, 2007

** Against the Gods by Peter Bernstein

If you're interested in the history of risk and finance, you'll find this book entertaining. If not, move onto something else.

We’ve always been gamblers

The earliest known form of gambling was a kind of dice game played with the squarish knuckle bone taken from a sheep or deer… Egyptian tomb paintings from 3500BC picture games played with such bone dice. P13

Can you count in Hindu numerals?
In 500AD, the Hindus developed the numbering system we all use today… The Arabs encountered the new numbers for the first time in 712AD when they swept into India. P31

Hey all of you 4th graders! Bet your parents that you’re smarter than Leonardo!
Leonard Da Vinci’s notebooks record repeated attempts to understand multiplication and fractions, as an aid to his use of proportion… Today Leonardo would barely squeak by in a 3rd grade arithmetic class. P43

Why does equal = ‘=’?
In 1562, an English book introduced the symbol ‘=’ because ‘noe 2 thynges can be more equalle than a pair of paralleles.’ P47

2nd hand smoke signals
As of 1994, worldwide there were only 30 studies on 2nd hand smoke, of which only 9 showed a statistically significant result of 1.19 times increased risk of cancer. Of these 9 studies, 7 covered fewer than 45 cases. None of the 11 studies done in US, showed any connection… In the end, admitting that the “EPA has never claimed that minimal exposure to 2nd hand smoke poses a significant cancer risk, the agency estimated [based upon what facts?] that 3000 nonsmokers die each year from 2nd hand smoke. P213

Humans are much more sensitive to negative rather than positive stimuli… Think about how well you feel today, and then try to imagine how much better you could feel… There are a few things that would make you feel better, but the number of things that would make you feel worse is unbounded. P274

Investors who look on investing as a game, commonly fail to diversify; diversification is boring. Well informed investors diversify because they don’t believe that investing is a form of entertainment. P275

People will bet on vague beliefs in situations where they feel especially competent or knowledgeable, but they prefer to bet on chance when they don’t… People who play dart games would rather play darts than a game of chance, although the probability of success in darts is vague while the probability of success at games of chance is mathematically predetermined. P281

Keynes noted: Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally. P286

How much would you be willing to pay to eliminate a 1 in 1000 chance of immediate death? How much money would you be willing to accept a 1 in 1000 chance of immediate death? The differences between the answers is astonishing. “I wouldn’t pay more than $200, but I wouldn’t accept less than $50,000 for extra risk.” P288

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