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Luck: What It Means and Why It Matters

by Ed Smith

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For aspiring cricketer Ed Smith, luck was for other people. Like his childhood hero, Geoff Boycott, the tough, flinty Yorkshireman, the young Ed knew that the successful cricketer made his own luck by an application of will power, elimination of error, and the relentless pursuit of excellence. But when a freak accident at the crease at Lords prematurely ended Ed Smith's international cricketing career, it changed everything - and prompted him to look anew at his own life through the prism of luck. Tracing the history of the concepts of luck and fortune, destiny and fate, from the ancient Greeks to the present day - in religion, in banking, in politics - Ed Smith argues that the question of luck versus skill is as pertinent today as it ever has been. He challenges us to think again about privilege and opportunity, to re-examine the question of innate ability and of gifts and talents accidentally conferred at birth. Weaving in his personal stories - notably the chance meeting of a beautiful stranger who would become his wife on a train he seemed fated to miss - he puts to us the idea that in life, luck cannot be underestimated: without any means of explaining our differing lots in life, the world without luck is one in which you deserve every ill that befalls you, where envy dominates and averageness is the stifling ideal. Embracing luck leads us to a fresh reappraisal of the nature of success, opportunity and fairness. Bankers have promised 'risk-free' investments, the self-help industry pedals the idea that everyone can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and life's winners are encouraged to claim that they did it all themselves in a 'meritocracy'. The case for luck needs to be made now, more than ever.… (more)

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For aspiring cricketer Ed Smith, luck was for other people. Like his childhood hero, Geoff Boycott, the tough, flinty Yorkshireman, the young Ed knew that the successful cricketer made his own luck by an application of will power, elimination of error, and the relentless pursuit of excellence. But when a freak accident at the crease at Lords prematurely ended Ed Smith's international cricketing career, it changed everything - and prompted him to look anew at his own life through the prism of luck. Tracing the history of the concepts of luck and fortune, destiny and fate, from the ancient Greeks to the present day - in religion, in banking, in politics - Ed Smith argues that the question of luck versus skill is as pertinent today as it ever has been. He challenges us to think again about privilege and opportunity, to re-examine the question of innate ability and of gifts and talents accidentally conferred at birth. Weaving in his personal stories - notably the chance meeting of a beautiful stranger who would become his wife on a train he seemed fated to miss - he puts to us the idea that in life, luck cannot be underestimated: without any means of explaining our differing lots in life, the world without luck is one in which you deserve every ill that befalls you, where envy dominates and averageness is the stifling ideal. Embracing luck leads us to a fresh reappraisal of the nature of success, opportunity and fairness. Bankers have promised 'risk-free' investments, the self-help industry pedals the idea that everyone can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and life's winners are encouraged to claim that they did it all themselves in a 'meritocracy'. The case for luck needs to be made now, more than ever.

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