The best books about luck: winning, losing, and seeing opportunity

Who am I?

My father, when he consented to talk about all the moments in his life when the odds against his survival were so small as to make them statistically non-existent, would say, ‘I was lucky.’ Trying to understand what he meant got me started on this book. As well as being a novelist, I’m a poker player. Luck is a subject that every poker player has a relationship to; more importantly it’s a subject that every person has a relationship to. The combination of family history and intellectual curiosity and the gambler’s desire to win drove me on this quest.


I wrote...

Luck: A Personal Account of Fortune, Chance and Risk in Thirteen Investigations

By David Flusfeder,

Book cover of Luck: A Personal Account of Fortune, Chance and Risk in Thirteen Investigations

What is my book about?

What does it mean to be lucky? How might we mitigate bad luck and maximise good? Is there actually such a thing as ‘luck’—some force that intervenes between desire and its consummation?

This book is a quest, a battle against superstition, my own, as I search for a definition of luck from ancient times to modern, in the footsteps of some victors of luck and those who were defeated by it—and gambling along the way. Following the dictates of an online randomiser that decided the chapter order, we go to Siberia, Versailles and the Old Testament desert. The journey culminates in Las Vegas, where I make a final reckoning with superstition and courage and prudence and opportunity and truth.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Gambler

David Flusfeder Why did I love this book?

This novel is the best account of the gambling psychology I know. It is a first-person narrative, ruthless in its depiction of the lies that addicts know they’re telling themselves. The story of a resentful compulsive gambler, the poor but superior tutor to a Russian family at “Roulettenburg,” it was itself the subject of a bet. Dostoevsky signed away his next decade’s worth of publishing profits unless he could deliver a new novel within a year. With six weeks to go he hadn’t written a word. He delivered the completed novel several hours before the deadline was going to pass. 

By Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Gambler as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The Gambler" is a gripping narrative of the dangers of an addiction to gambling. As was common with Dostoyevsky's writing he draws upon his own life in a semi-autobiographical way in "The Gambler". Dostoyevksy himself suffered from a compulsion to gambling and those first-hand experiences bring a depth of realism to "The Gambler" and to his portrayal of the main character, Alexis Ivanovitch, a young man addicted to gambling. "The Gambler" is an insightful look at the compulsive nature of the gambling addict and the tragic consequences of such an addiction.


Book cover of Classical Probability in the Enlightenment

David Flusfeder Why did I love this book?

Sadly, Games, Gods, and Gambling by FN David is out of print. This is the next best thing. Lorraine Daston has the supreme gift of making the complicated idea seem straightforward. This is an account of the frenzy for measuring that happened in the 18th century, and how it made the world we live in today, when the gambler’s eye for odds has become the algorithm of taming chance that guides all our decisions.

By Lorraine Daston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Classical Probability in the Enlightenment as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What did it mean to be reasonable in the Age of Reason? Classical probabilists from Jakob Bernouli through Pierre Simon Laplace intended their theory as an answer to this question--as "nothing more at bottom than good sense reduced to a calculus," in Laplace's words. In terms that can be easily grasped by nonmathematicians, Lorraine Daston demonstrates how this view profoundly shaped the internal development of probability theory and defined its applications.


Book cover of Hopscotch

David Flusfeder Why did I love this book?

Argentinians in 1950s Paris argue about art and philosophy. They fall in and out of love to a jazz soundtrack. The novel itself is in love with the modern city and the secret patterns of chance. Prefacing it is a ‘table of instructions’ in which the author writes that "this book consists of many books, but two books above all. The first can be read in a normal fashion and it ends with Chapter 56... The second should be read by beginning with Chapter 73 and then following the sequence indicated at the end of each chapter."

There’s an exhilaration of structure, a deadpan formal playfulness that still thrills. It’s the book that taught me the most about reading. And, not entirely coincidentally, it’s the book that made me realise I was going to become a writer.

By Julio Cortazar, Gregory Rabassa (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hopscotch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Cortazar's masterpiece ... The first great novel of Spanish America" (The Times Literary Supplement) • Winner of the National Book Award for Translation in 1967, translated by Gregory Rabassa

Horacio Oliveira is an Argentinian writer who lives in Paris with his mistress, La Maga, surrounded by a loose-knit circle of bohemian friends who call themselves "the Club." A child's death and La Maga's disappearance put an end to his life of empty pleasures and intellectual acrobatics, and prompt Oliveira to return to Buenos Aires, where he works by turns as a salesman, a keeper of a circus cat which can…


Book cover of The Wild Ass's Skin

David Flusfeder Why did I love this book?

A young man loses all his money in a Paris casino and goes off to drown himself in the Seine. Before he can do so, he wanders into an antiquarian’s shop of treasures and is offered the skin of the title, a magical pelt that will grant its possessor any wish, but shrink each time, diminishing the possessor’s life force in the process. It’s a moral tale of wish fulfillment and identity, but most of all, it’s a thrilling glittering dark tale of ambition and excess. 

By Honoré de Balzac, Helen Constantine (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wild Ass's Skin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Who possesses me will possess all things,
But his life will belong to me...'

Raphael de Valentin, a young aristocrat, has lost all his money in the gaming parlours of the Palais Royal in Paris, and contemplates ending his life by throwing himself into the Seine. He is distracted by the bizarre array of objects in a chaotic antique shop, among them a strange animal skin, a piece of shagreen with magical properties. It will grant its possessor his every wish, but each time a wish is bestowed the skin shrinks, hastening its owner's death. Around this fantastic premise
Balzac…


Book cover of The Courtiers Manual Oracle: or the Art of Prudence

David Flusfeder Why did I love this book?

When I was researching Luck, I came across many books that claimed to teach the willing acolyte how to seize opportunity and how to maximise reward while minimising risk. This is the one that’s worth paying attention to. The Oracle is a collection of three hundred maxims for practical success, in condensed, often paradoxical form, written by a seventeenth-century Jesuit. Nietzsche said of it that "Europe has never produced anything finer or more complicated in matters of moral subtlety" and who’s going to argue with Nietzsche?

By Baltasar Gracián,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Courtiers Manual Oracle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a reproduction of a classic text optimised for kindle devices. We have endeavoured to create this version as close to the original artefact as possible. Although occasionally there may be certain imperfections with these old texts, we believe they deserve to be made available for future generations to enjoy.


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Radio Free Olympia

By Jeffrey Dunn,

Book cover of Radio Free Olympia

Jeffrey Dunn Author Of Radio Free Olympia

New book alert!

Who am I?

I’ve always been a child of the woods. I preferred to leave my home and wade a creek or explore a hillside. Nothing compared to the sight of a black snake or the feel of a mud puppy. School was a torture until an English teacher introduced me to Richard Brautigan and then read my first serious story to the class. Since then, this dyslexic nature lover has become a dream fisher and history miner with a Ph.D. in English Literature and Cultural Studies. Retired from forty-one years of teaching, I now write and publish cultural fiction.

Jeffrey's book list on where imagination and nature run free

What is my book about?

Embark on a riveting journey into Washington State’s untamed Olympic Peninsula, where the threads of folklore legends and historical icons are woven into a complex ecological tapestry.

Follow the enigmatic Petr as he fearlessly employs his pirate radio transmitter to broadcast the forgotten and untamed voices that echo through the wilderness. Venture deeper and encounter Baie, the founder of Wildsisters, a cranberry-infused roadhouse that offers solace to lost and wayward women. When a newborn is kidnapped, Baie and her community must unite to recover what has been stolen. Yet, their quest for justice extends beyond the realm of human characters—it must also be served for the fragile flora, the diverse fauna, and the very essence of the natural world.

Radio Free Olympia

By Jeffrey Dunn,

What is this book about?

Unleash the Power of the Wilderness in Radio Free Olympia


Discover the captivating allure of Washington's untamed Olympic Peninsula in Radio Free Olympia, an extraordinary literary masterpiece that immerses readers in a mesmerizing realm of visionaries, folklore legends, and historical icons. With an enchanting blend of magical realism and cultural fiction, the brilliant wordsmith Jeffrey Dunn artfully intertwines multiple narratives, crafting an intricate ecological tapestry that resonates deeply within the soul.


Embark on a riveting journey alongside the enigmatic Petr, a foundling whose path leads him deep into the heart of the majestic mountain rainforest. Armed with nothing but a…


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