Luck: What It Means and Why It Matters

Ed Smith

Luck: What It Means and Why It Matters

For aspiring cricketer Ed Smith, luck was for other people. Like his childhood hero, Geoff Boycott, the tough, flinty Yorkshireman, the young Ed knew that the successful cricketer made his own luck by an application of will power, elimination of error, and the relentless pursuit of excellence. But when a freak accident at the crease at Lords prematurely ended Ed Smith's international cricketing career, it changed everything - and prompted him to look anew at his own life through the prism of luck. Tracing the history of the concepts of luck and fortune, destiny and fate, from the ancient Greeks to the present day - in religion, in banking, in politics - Ed Smith argues that the question of luck versus skill is as pertinent today as it ever has been. He challenges us to think again about privilege and opportunity, to re-examine the question of innate ability and of gifts and talents accidentally conferred at birth. Weaving in his personal stories - notably the chance meeting of a beautiful stranger who would become his wife on a train he seemed fated to miss - he puts to us the idea that in life, luck cannot be underestimated. 3.4 out of 5 based on 10 reviews
Luck: What It Means and Why It Matters

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Society, Politics & Philosophy
Format Hardback
Pages 256
RRP £16.99
Date of Publication March 2012
ISBN 978-1408815472
Publisher Bloomsbury
 

For aspiring cricketer Ed Smith, luck was for other people. Like his childhood hero, Geoff Boycott, the tough, flinty Yorkshireman, the young Ed knew that the successful cricketer made his own luck by an application of will power, elimination of error, and the relentless pursuit of excellence. But when a freak accident at the crease at Lords prematurely ended Ed Smith's international cricketing career, it changed everything - and prompted him to look anew at his own life through the prism of luck. Tracing the history of the concepts of luck and fortune, destiny and fate, from the ancient Greeks to the present day - in religion, in banking, in politics - Ed Smith argues that the question of luck versus skill is as pertinent today as it ever has been. He challenges us to think again about privilege and opportunity, to re-examine the question of innate ability and of gifts and talents accidentally conferred at birth. Weaving in his personal stories - notably the chance meeting of a beautiful stranger who would become his wife on a train he seemed fated to miss - he puts to us the idea that in life, luck cannot be underestimated.

Reviews

The Financial Times

Simon Kuper

[A] delightful and illuminating book … Even when dealing with weighty ideas, Smith writes the lightest prose. Just occasionally the ideas themselves are light: after all, the notion that luck matters will startle only a few self-help writers and sports coaches. Sometimes the book is merely a string of good anecdotes, perfectly told. Yet perhaps that is enough.

23/03/2012

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The Daily Mail

Marcus Berkmann

Smith wants us to recognise the importance of accidents, of happenstance, of random events that no one can control. He often uses sport as a metaphor, with considerable elegance and subtlety, but as befits a history graduate he is also looking for patterns in what has gone before. In one fascinating chapter he marvels at the number of times Winston Churchill narrowly escaped death as a young man. Would World War II have been won if Churchill had not survived being run over by a car in New York in 1931? It doesn't bear thinking about, but Smith does think about it, and much else. This cogently argued book is the wholly pleasing result.

23/03/2012

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The Spectator

Graham Stewart

Smith makes a convincing case that while hard work, positive attitude and all the other attributes of personal responsibility and self-betterment can propel individuals forward, it is perfectly possible to have ability and application in abundance and still be dealt a cripplingly poor hand. As he shows through several telling historical case studies, the interplay of chance can be decisive. Referencing the effect of genes as well as educational opportunity, he also goes some way towards modifying the view that the pursuit of excellence is primarily achieved through hard graft rather than by other advantages.

31/03/2012

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The Times

Antonia Senior

Elegant and absorbing … the writing on sport is superb … For those of us who like the illusion that we have free will and control, Smith’s book is disturbing, heady stuff.

07/04/2012

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The Sunday Times

Dominic Lawson

... an elegant book ... It brings to mind the story of the Nobel prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr, who — or so it is said — had a horseshoe pinned to the wall of his study. When a colleague told him that this was a bizarre superstition, Bohr is supposed to have replied that of course he didn’t believe that horseshoes brought good luck — but they worked even if you didn’t believe it. Bohr would have understood probability theory very well; something that Smith touches on only fleetingly, since this is a book written more for the beach than the study. That’s a slight pity, because a whole branch of the games we play — involving a deck of cards — makes sense only as a means of exploiting superior knowledge of what is quite wrongly called “luck”. It is, of course, chance, a different concept altogether. Smith is both funny and honest, however, about the collision between chance and cricket — the tossing of the coin before every game, to decide who should have the right to choose whether to bat or field first.

25/03/2012

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The New Statesman

Peter Wilby

This book could have been more rigorous and would have benefited particularly from a longer discussion of how the blessings and curses of God (or gods) can play the same role as luck. But Smith is a beguiling and skilful writer: good-humoured, anecdotal, discursive and often fascinating. You'll probably read his book in an evening but think about it for weeks, even years, afterwards.

26/03/2012

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The Observer

Tim Lewis

He certainly sets out a compelling case. In his previous book, the sporadically excellent What Sport Tells Us About Life, Smith chose a massive topic — two massive topics, really: sport, life — and spread himself a little thin. This time, he has a tighter brief, and he writes with clipped authority on his home turf of cricket, on politics and on the financial crisis. He remains fond of a tangent — the Azande tribe from South Sudan have a cameo, for example — but he never loses sight of his central argument.

18/03/2012

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The Daily Telegraph

Adrian Michaels

Smith is no fancy polemicist but he is a treat, like a celebrated after-dinner speaker, because of his unique CV. This clear writer has captained Middlesex cricket club and played for England. When he talks of friends’ experiences to illustrate his points, his friends are the current England cricket captain, and numerous other people at the top of their fields. The byways of cosy inquiry are pleasant to travel in his company. Good anecdotes and contacts do not make for intellectual rigour, however.

05/04/2012

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The Independent on Sunday

Joy Lo Dico

Luck is a vast, unwieldy idea and, by its nature, unquantifiable. Smith occasionally loses command of his subject, but his book is thoughtful and thought-provoking. Take a chance on it.

25/03/2012

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The Guardian

David Runciman

One of Smith's aims is to challenge the view popularised by writers such as Malcolm Gladwell that what really makes the difference to success is practice and hard work. Smith thinks that downplays the good fortune of those who have the genetic and social advantages to be able to undertake the hard work. This is true enough, but the comparison with Gladwell highlights what's really wrong with this book. Partly it's a sense that the genre is starting to cannibalise itself. There is a world of fascinating material out there on luck written by philosophers, novelists, historians — but Smith's frame of reference is primarily pop psychology books of the past few years. The main problem, though, is that people like Gladwell do it so much better.

31/03/2012

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