The Norm Chronicles

The Norm Chronicles

Stories and Numbers About Danger and Death

Book - 2014
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"Is it safer to fly or take the train? How dangerous is skydiving? And is eating that extra link of breakfast sausage going to kill you? We've all heard the statistics for risky activities, but what do those numbers actually mean in the real world? In The Norm Chronicles, journalist Michael Blastland and risk expert David Spiegelhalter answer these questions ... in a commonsense ... guide to personal risk. Through the adventures of the perfectly average Norm, his friends careful Prudence and the reckless Kelvin brothers, and an ingenious measurement called the MicroMort--essentially, a one in a million chance of dying--Blastland and Spiegelhalter show us how to think about risk in the choices we make every day"--Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group, [2014]
ISBN: 9780465085705
Branch Call Number: 363.1 BLASTLAN
Characteristics: xx, 358 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Additional Contributors: Spiegelhalter, D. J.


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ksoles Oct 04, 2014

We worry about fat and carbs, disease and antibiotics, saving money and paying the mortgage. Then we worry that we worry too much. Journalist Michael Blastland and statistician David Spiegelhalter do not purport to put our minds at rest with their new book but they do shed light on the highs and lows of risk: how many children drown every year? Does fishing or mining pose a greater hazard? Will you arrive alive if you take a car or an airplane?

Thankfully, the authors go beyond bombardment with tables and charts. They convey quantities in charming measurements: acute risks in MicroMorts (a one-in-a-million chance of death) and more chronic risks in MicroLives, (one-millionth of a typical life span, or about 30 minutes of existence). These common units allow for easy comparison and make sense of the fact that undergoing general anesthesia (a risk of 5 MicroMorts) equates to 1,200 miles of driving in the U.S. Smoking a pack a day eats up 10 MicroLives daily, 10 times as much as a couple of hours watching TV.

By virtue, "The Norm Chronicles" makes heavy use of numbers but the authors remain appropriately aware of the danger in carelessly slinging statistics. They assert that our minds don't think of dangers as numbers but rather as stories. Thus, the book cleverly alternates segments of statistical explanation with tales of three characters: risk-averse Prudence, daredevil Kelvin and the protagonist of the book, Norm, who embodies the median of every statistical category.

Readers follow Norm, Kelvin and Pru as they encounter life's various risks. Through their stories, we learn fascinating facts: ecstasy (the drug) carries a roughly equal risk to equasy (the practice of horse riding). The number of MicroMorts we incur when driving a car tops the charts whereas the chance of dying on a plane is next to nil. So why do we sweat and stress on takeoff while mindlessly pulling out of our garages? One could certainly interpret a prosecutorial tone in these statistics but, more productively, readers can learn to buttress their judgment here while remembering that numbers can never replace judgment entirely.


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