by Kaiser Fung
reviewed by Gary W. Silverman, CFP®
Gary Silverman, CFP®, owns a fee-only financial planning firm in Wichita Falls, Texas. He is the editor of the financial newsletter Personal Money Planning, writes the newspaper columns Your Money and Biz2Biz, and hosts the cable talk show, Money Cent$.
It has been said that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. And while it is usually not the statistic itself that is the problem, most readers of this review have been beguiled by the little devils.
Whether in a college business curriculum, going for your MBA, or just getting dropped into the world of investing, you've had to come to grips with statistics. Some of you swim around in it with ease. Others of you would prefer a tooth extraction. Few find statistical analysis fascinating.
But Kaiser Fung, the author of Numbers Rule Your World, may change that for you. Fung is a professional statistician who has spent more than a decade viewing marketing and advertising business with a statistical lens. With 10 stories across 200 pages, he takes us into places as disparate as Minnesota highways and rides at Disney World. Using these settings, Fung gives us a taste of how statistics improve the world around us. At the same time, he effectively illustrates the principles behind the breakthroughs.
In each section, Fung bobs and weaves two stories together to illustrate a statistical principle. These include: Variability, Correlation, Groupings, Errors, and Significance. We learn that while people tend to gravitate to learning about the average measure of something, it's the variability of those averages that truly fascinate researchers. How much variability, how often, and why, are the questions whose answers can solve the riddle to a problem.
Although Fung holds degrees from Cambridge, Harvard, and Princeton, this is no academic tome. Instead, it contains the fresh air of relevancy and an open admission that the real world can often thwart out best statistical intentions. You won't be weighed down in Greek or Latin terms, nor will you have to slog through any formulas. For this book is not about teaching you how to do research using statistics, but rather how to think statistically.
It was one of those kinds of books that just keep you reading. And while it did not seem instructive, as I turned the pages I gained a new awareness of the numbers around us and how the study of them can improve our lives.
While I don't see this book making you a better investor or planner, I think you will find it enjoyable and may give you some anecdotes that will help you explain the statistics you use in your practice to your staff and clients.