Stephen Stigler awarded Neumann Prize

January 22, 2024

Casanova's Lottery book cover

The British Society for the History of Mathematics announced that Stephen Stigler, Ernest DeWitt Burton Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Statistics, has won the 2023 Neumann Prize for his book Casanova's Lottery: The History of a Revolutionary Game of Chance (University of Chicago Press, 2022). The prize is awarded for a book in English (including books in translation) dealing with the history of mathematics, aimed at a non-specialist readership.

“This excellent book blends compelling mathematical content with fascinating historical context as it describes the remarkable story of the French lottery (Loterie) established in 1757,” says the BSHM Neumann Prize Committee. “Stigler relies on a rich array of primary source materials, including rediscovered original lottery documents, for evidence of sound mathematical calculations that supported the French state’s willingness to risk significant loss during each individual draw due to the assurance of longer-term gains.”

Casanova's Lottery is the culmination of a 25-year-long project, explains Stigler. “It could be viewed as (1) a history of a particular French lottery, but it is also (2) a history of how people and governments approach risk, (3) a story of the role of gambling and its role in applied mathematical education, (4) how and why society both permits gambling and at the same time criticizes it on moral grounds, and (5) a collection of interesting stories.”

By aiming at audiences of academic scholars, historians, statisticians, economists, and gamblers, as well as a general audience, Stigler ran the risk of missing them all. “I hope this prize helps bring it to the attention of each group,” he says. “Who wouldn’t want to know how Voltaire made a fortune in a lottery with no risk, or what fine Bordeaux wine has to do with the lottery?”

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