Amy in Randomland [book review]

Amy’s Luck is a short book by David Hand that I recently received for review in CHANCE. David, whom I have known for quite a while now, is professor at Imperial College London. This is not his first book, by far! But this may be the most unusual one, if not the shortest. Written as a pastiche of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it tells of the adventures of a young girl named Amy in the pursuit of luck or at least of its meaning. It has about the same number of chapters as Carroll’s book and could easily be read on a leisurely boat trip from Oxford to Godstow. While non-sensical and playing on the imprecision of the English language, its probabilist is both correct and rational. References to the original Alice abound and I presumably missed a fair portion of them, having read Alice (in French) decades ago. The book also contains illustrations from the author, gathered into a charm bracelet printed on the cover and a most helpful appendix where David points out the real world stories behind those of Amy, which is also full of gems, like Kolmogorov being a train conductor in his youth. (Missing an addition about Galton’s quincunx, esp. when his cousin Darwin is more than mentioned.) Or Asimov creating the milihelen to measure how much beauty was required to launch a ship. Overall, it is quite charming and definitely enjoyable, if presumably not accessible by the same audience as Alice‘s. And unlikely to take over Alice‘s! But from “She could understand the idea that coins had heads”, to a Nightingale rose renamed after Miss Starling, to the permutation of Brown, Stein, and Bachelier into Braun, Stone, and a bachelor, David must have had fun writing it. As others will while reading it and trying to separate probabilistic sense from non-sense.

[Disclaimer about potential self-plagiarism: this post or an edited version will eventually appear in my Book Review section in CHANCE.]

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