Advance Praise for


"Always entertaining and frequently insightful, “Fluke” is never less than thought-provoking."
--The Wall Street Journal

“Like John Allen Paulos, in Innumeracy (1988), mathematician Mazur takes what could be difficult, abstruse subjects—probability and statistics—and makes them entertaining. ... An ideal book, then, for the lay reader who is curious about the nature of coincidence.” -- David Pitt, Booklist

“A lively look at the statistical probabilities of seemingly unlikely events. It is in the early running to be among the best books of the year.” —Sobering Thoughts

"A great read for someone who wants to have fun thinking."
-- The Carroll County Times

“A tour de force of masterful writing that weaves together some of the simple and not-so-simple mathematical notions of probability and statistics into various intriguing coincidences from fact and fiction, explaining with nuance various strange phenomena. Mazur's book will teach you about some of this mathematics, leaving you quite equipped to understand the role of chance in your life without resorting to magical thinking”
—Gizem Karaali, Editor, Journal of Humanistic Mathematics

“In Fluke, the author takes us on a marvelous guided tour of the world of the unlikely and the improbable. After reading Fluke, you will definitely come away with a deeper understanding of why wildly improbable coincidences may not be so improbable after all.”
—Ronald Graham, Chief Scientist at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology

"Mazur has written a wonderfully insightful book. He shows how it is that our purely psychological expectations about what might happen in the real world, and our culturally acquired notions of order and disorder, often give us a completely false sense of the chance that something will, in fact, occur in the world outside."
—Richard Lewontin, Professor of Biology Emeritus at Harvard University and Author ofThe Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change

“Joe Mazur’s Fluke walks the reader, hand in steady hand, through the weird and dangerous landscape of extreme probability, distinguishing cause from correlate, and phenomenon from mere coincidence.”
—Jordan Ellenberg, author of How Not To Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking

“An exciting addition to the ranks of books exploring the mysteries of chance and coincidence in the vein of The Black Swan and The Improbability Principle.”
—David J. Hand, Professor of Mathematics at Imperial College and author of The Improbability Principle

“In Fluke, Joe Mazur dissects a gaggle of seemingly impossible real-life coincidences with logic, probability theory (developed from scratch), and probing skepticism (the chapter on DNA evidence should be read by all juries). Clear, humorous, and grounded in history and culture, Fluke shows you why anything that can happen is bound to happen, sometime. But just as rainbows still thrill us when we parsed the physics, dissecting bizarre coincidences doesn't dilute our amazement. We leave Fluke with, in F. Scott Fitzgerald's words, "the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." Mazur has accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of writing a book for everyone.”
—Marjorie Senechal, Editor-in-Chief, The Mathematical Intelligencer

“Fluke is going to surprise you as a lay reader. You will learn, for instance, that DNA matching is not always clear evidence of guilt in court; and that meeting an acquaintance on your only trip to Disneyland may not be as unlikely as you thought. Mathematician Joe Mazur has written an excellent book, where he shows that probabilistic outcomes are often non-intuitive and unexpected."
—Florin Diacu, author of the award-winning book Megadisasters— The Science of Predicting the Next Catastrophe

“With charm and clarity, Joe Mazur leads us through the strange terrain of chance and surprise. He explains why apparently remarkable coincidences are usually more likely than we imagine, because we underestimate how large our world really is. Not so much probability theory, as improbability theory! A terrific read, and a welcome antidote to superstition and gullibility.”
—Ian Stewart, author of Professor Stewart’s Incredible Numbers

"The chances are very slim that you'd ever read this blurb. A
simple-minded calculation puts the odds at about 50,000 to one against.
Yet... here you are. How weird is this seemingly farfetched coincidence?
Well, dear reader, you've picked up the right book to answer that question."
—Charles Seife, <author of Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea


FLUKE: The Math and Myth of Coincidence (Basic Books, March 29, 2016).

Listen to The Hidden Brain

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What are the chances? This is the question we ask ourselves when we encounter the freakiest and most seemingly impossible coincidences, like the woman who won the lottery four times or the fact that Lincoln’s dreams foreshadowed his own assassination.

But in fact, when we look at coincidences mathematically, we can see that the odds are a lot better than any of us would have thought. In Fluke, mathematician and math popularizer Joseph Mazur has us take a second look at the seemingly improbable, sharing with us an entertaining guide to understanding the most astounding and surprising moments in our lives. He takes us on a tour of the mathematical concepts of probability, such as the law of large numbers and the birthday paradox, and combines these concepts with lively anecdotes of flukes from around the world. How do you explain finding your college copy of Moby Dick in a used bookstore on the Seine on your first visit to Paris? How can a jury be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that DNA found at the scene of a heinous crime did not get there by some fluke? Should we be surprised if strangers named Maria and Francisco, seeking each other in a hotel lobby, accidentally meet the wrong Francisco and the wrong Maria, another pair of strangers also looking for each other? The answer is we probably shouldn’t. As Mazur reveals: if there is any likelihood that something could happen, no matter how small, it is bound to happen to someone at some time.

Delving into the mathematics of our poetic twists of fate, Mazur has written a book that will appeal to anyone who has ever wondered how all of the tiny decisions and coincidences that happen in our lives add up to what can seem like an impossibly improbable whole. A must-read for math enthusiasts and story-tellers alike, Fluke helps us to understand the true nature of chance, and thus, of life itself.

Selected Works

What are the chances? This is the question we ask ourselves when we encounter the freakiest and most seemingly impossible coincidences, like the woman who won the lottery four times or the fact that Lincoln’s dreams foreshadowed his own assassination.
Hardly any math symbols were used before the sixteenth century. What did mathematicians rely on for their work before then? And how did mathematical notations evolve to what we know of today? Enlightening Symbols explains the fascinating history behind the development of our current mathematical notation system, shows how symbols were used initially, how one symbol replaced another over time, and how written math was conveyed before and after symbols became widely adopted.
Princeton University Press (2010). A book about the nature of gambling, emphasizing the dangers and pitfalls of feeling lucky. It will investigate the hooks of gambling and what makes gamblers feel lucky. Using both mathematics and psychology it will illustrate the misconceptions of luck, explore what it means to have a good chance, and to create an awareness of expected outcomes.
Published by Dutton in April 2007. Now available in bookstores. "THIS is one of the most fascinating science books I have ever read . . . Mazur has succeeded in telling a fresh and untold story with clarity and style." -- The New Scientist
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles of the Year 2005-- “This book is a treasure of human experience and intellectual excitement.”
Editor of the revived classic by Tobias Dantzig, Number: The Language of Science.