A history of probability and statistics and their applications before 1750. (English) Zbl 0731.01001

Wiley Series in Probability and Mathematical Statistics. Probability and Mathematical Statistics. Chichester etc.: John Wiley & Sons Ltd. xiii, 586 p. £63.10 (1990).
As the author himself says on page 4 a fuller title of the book would be “A history of probability theory and statistics and their applications to games of chance, astronomy, demography, and life insurance before 1750, with some comments on later developments”. Its main aim is to deal with these aspects of history: with problems, methods and with persons. Being not a historian of science but a retired professor of statistics the author relied on secondary literature whenever he touched really historical or nonmathematical issues like evaluations, dates, biographical and bibliographical details. Very often his style is enumerative and makes clear that he did not see, let alone study the original literature (see page 54, 64, 74, 184 etc.) On the other side the reader will find a very competent discussion of mathematical techniques and results of the underlying problems which is certainly better balanced than I. Todhunter’s classical book of 1865. Nevertheless the Arabic mathematicians of the Maghreb are left aside again though they dealt intensively with combinatorics. In particular the author stressed the importance of the work of J. Graunt, R. de Montmort, and N. Bernoulli.
The book consists of 25 chapters, eight ending with problems to be solved by the reader. It is written as a textbook which includes also well known facts like the invention of the calculus (chapter 10), unfortunately repeating sometimes old errors or myths (see for example page 174 “Leibniz was aware of Newton’s previous work but did not refer to Newton which led to the famous priority dispute”).


01A05 General histories, source books
01-01 Introductory exposition (textbooks, tutorial papers, etc.) pertaining to history and biography
01-02 Research exposition (monographs, survey articles) pertaining to history and biography
60-03 History of probability theory
62-03 History of statistics