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Title: Luck: A Fresh Look at Fortune

Author: Ed Smith

Publisher: London, Bloomsbury, 2013

Call No.: English 123 SMI




What constitutes ‘luck’? How about ‘fortune’ or ‘chance’? These seemingly interchangeable words form the basis of Ed Smith’s delightful meditation on the nature of luck and the role it plays in our lives. Drawing from his personal experiences playing cricket, Smith prompts questions about things we seldom ponder. Peppered with anecdotes that might sound obtuse initially, this book nevertheless reveals nuggets of unconventional wisdom – why babies born in January are luckier than others, or how the best golfers are actually the worst. Read on to find out more, and who knows, all the talk about luck might just rub off on you.


Above book review contributed by Sufyan Alimon, National Library Board (NLB). Availability of the book title can be checked via NLB’s online catalogue at


Excerpt pg 7-10


Talent plus effort equals merit. That was the sociologist Michael Young’s definition of meritocracy, a word he invented. (Later we’ll see how far the modern definition has moved from Young’s satirical intention.) If I had known about the word as a child, I would have passionately believed in it. My view was simple: if you had the ability and you practised enough, nothing could stop you.


When I abandoned playing the cello at the age of fourteen, the reason I gave was a cold calculation of meritocratic potential. I told my music teacher I wanted more time to focus on cricket. ‘I can’t be the best at playing the cello,’ I explained, sounding like Geoff Boycott in waiting. ‘But I can be the best at playing cricket.’ It sounded so tough and self-deterministic at the time, as though nothing else should enter into how you choose hobbies and pastimes. Luck – in either success or failure- didn’t come into it at all.


I took my contempt for the idea of luck into early adult life. At Cambridge, I took the same approach to studying history as I did to my cricket. I don’t think I felt pressure on myself. Success was just an imperative. I refused even to contemplate failure. The right combination of ability and hard work, I believed, surely made success inevitable. I wanted the perfect game, the perfect life: a game free from contingency, a life with nothing left to chance.


What did luck have to do with anything? I would have wholeheartedly agreed with my childhood hero Geoff Boycott. Luck was for other people.


(...) The problem with superstitions is that they become both addictive and cumulative. It is far easier to add new superstitions than to lose old ones. By my early twenties, playing regularly for Kent, I accumulated a ridiculously long routine of pre-ball rituals that I performed before every ball I received.