123: As Luck Would Have It by Joshua Piven

by Gerard


123.3: Piven, Joshua. As Luck Would Have It: Incredible Stories, from Lottery Wins to Lightning Strikes. New York: Villard, 2003. 181 pp. ISBN 1-4000-6055-9.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 100: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 120: Epistemology, causation, and mankind
  • 123: Determinism and indeterminism
  • 3: Chance

In As Luck Would Have It, Joshua Piven investigates nine chance occurrences and how they inform our view of the world and the circumstances of our lives. It’s a quick little book, to say the least. It covers the following stories:

  • “Steve Roberts” and his $363 million lottery win in 2000.
  • The search for Bennet Zelner during a January 1995 snowstorm at Alpine Meadows.
  • Gary Dahl’s “invention” and wildfire success of the Pet Rock in 1975.
  • The runaway success of Tommy Tutone’s hit “867-5309/Jenny” in 1981.
  • The airplane crash of Amy Knowlton and three other researchers off the coast of Georgia in 1987.
  • Josh Smith’s 1999 discovery of the first titanosaur in Egypt
  • Keith Gallagher’s crash landing of his A-6 plane on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln
  • Al Kahn’s marketing of the Cabbage Patch Dolls in 1983 and ensuing hysteria
  • The 1969 lightning strike of Steve Marshburn that led to new discoveries in medicine.

Piven’s tales of coincidental luck, heroic luck, and even horrible luck are interesting but not really compelling. The circumstances of and the reactions to the events are often times trivial at best. The good parts of this book come when Piven goes into background history for details. The rise of Tommy Tutone and the career of Al Kahn offer a better view of history than a single event. In many cases, it gives insight into how to act if you’re ever lost in a snowstorm or in a crashed plane. Other than that, most of the info is rather blasé. If you’ve got an afternoon for something not too taxing, then this one could work for you.