"The Signal and the Noise" is a 2012 work by Nate Silver, most famous as the creator of the website fivethirtyeight.com. The book is a non-fiction work that covers the art and science of prediction, with the book dealing with the mathematical, practical and psychological aspects of forecasting and decision making. The book runs over 500 pages, with 50 pages of citations and foot notes.
Nate Silver is a celebrity and favorite to much of the internet, and this book shows why. Although most of his writing has been confined to short, topical blog posts, this book takes a more in-depth look at the people and events behind predictions. Silver takes examples from several different fields of endeavor: sports, political campaigning, meteorology, stock markets, gambling and seismology, and explains why each field has successfully or unsuccessfully incorporated good prediction into its decision making. The writing is rich, but not overly technical. And although Silver fills the book with examples and personal stories, it doesn't feel that he is making it too cute or dumbing it down. In other words, this is very well written book.
But apart from style, what is the substance? The substance of this book is very strong, and I honestly believe it is an era-defining book. Nate Silver's views on prediction have had a gigantic popular splash, and this book explains them in greater depth. It also is a major rebuttal of one of the criticisms of Silver, because one of the caricatured views of Silver, that he wants to reduce everything to statistics and that he is overly dependent on modeling, is the exact opposite of his actual viewpoint. Because Silver, in this book, puts forth an agenda that is audacious in its modesty. His basic thesis is that prediction is always an imprecise tool, and that only through constantly criticizing our predictive models from a variety of viewpoints can we avoid falling into arrogance. It is a good manifesto for an era in which we have vast amounts of data, but where the world continues to be as confusing as ever. Silver's suggested tools for correcting over-confidence run the gamut from mathematical concepts of power law distribution to the psychological concept that gamblers have of "tilt"--- letting emotional states cloud judgment.
I would rate this as the most important non-fiction book that I have read this year.
The Signal and the Noise