Pascal's Wager
James A. Connor
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Buy *Pascal's Wager: The Man Who Played Dice with God* by James A. Connor online

Pascal's Wager: The Man Who Played Dice with God
James A. Connor
HarperSanFrancisco
Hardcover
240 pages
October 2006
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars
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Pascalís Wager: The Man Who Played Dice with God is a fascinating look at the life of the brilliant mathematician by James A. Connor, author of the bestselling Keplerís Witch about the life of Johannes Kepler. You probably wouldnít think that a book about some dusty dead mathematician would be a subject of much interest, but this one is, and engrossing and well-researched and written. Truthfully, I didnít know much at all about Blaise Pascal until I read this book, and I was only intrigued in reading it because the title reminded me of Einsteinís quote: ďI am convinced that He (God) does not play dice.Ē Iím glad I began reading it, though; James A. Conner has proven that the lives of mathematicians can be exciting and adventurous, indeed.

Harkening back to the Kepler biography, the first chapter is entitled ďThe Witch.Ē The chapters are fairly short, no more than three to five pages in general, and this one is no exception, even at a mere three pages. But it serves well to lure the reader into Pascalís amazing life, with a short story about how that very life began.

Why should a reader of today be interested in the life of Blaise Pascal? Among his contributions to the world are the first calculating machines, the first public transportation system, the concepts of Probability Theory and Decision Theory, risk management, and proof of the existence of the vacuum, which upset the entire Aristotlian world view that had existed for ďnearly 2200 years.Ē Until Pascalís experiments proved the existence of a vacuum, people often quoted the saying that ďnature abhors a vacuum.Ē Pascal made many enemies with these controversial-for-the-times experiments, including the mathematician Descartes. Pascalís contributions set the stage for Quantum Physics, the atomic bomb, Powerball Lotteries, and much more. As Connor states: ďYou canít walk ten feet in the twenty-first century without running into something that Pascalís 39 years of the seventeenth century did not affect in one way or another.Ē

The author faithfully tracks Pascalís life, from his early successes at eight years old in re-inventing his own version of Euclidís geometry, despite his fatherís initial desire to not have his son be taught mathematics until he was older, to his successes with conic problems, triangles, the vacuum, and probabilities. His father and entire family became known at the court of King Louis XIII and the Sun King, Louis XIV, and became embroiled in the tangled and complex political and religious intrigues of the day. Catholics warred with Protestants; even different orders of the Catholic faith murdered each other in various uprisings if their doctrinal views clashed. It was Blaise Pascalís ties with the Jansenists, a group of Catholics that held contrary and, some said, heretical views, that drew fire and controversy from other orders like the Jesuits.

Odds are that reading Pascalís Wager will lead you to a fascination with Blaise Pascalís life and to gaining an appreciation for one of those school subjects you might once have thought dull and boring: mathematics. Pascalís Wager is anything but that!



Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Douglas R. Cobb, 2006

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