Beyond black cats and four-leaf clovers
December 26, 2007 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Got any great books about luck?

I'm looking for books or other great reference material about luck, chance, fortune, that certain something that makes the cards fall your way (or not). Not interested in pareidolia or confirmation bias - no science, please! Not really interested in numerology or kabbalah, either. What I want is folklore, superstition, mythology, from as many cultures and periods as possible. Particular emphasis on actions you can take to make your luck better or worse, and the more obscure the better.

Pickings seem to be slim so far, but there has to be something out there like that, right? ...Right?

Finished the first novel, in research mode for the second. :)
posted by Andrhia to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Larry Niven's Ringworld has humans' remarkable luck as a plot point.
posted by spacewrench at 11:06 AM on December 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

it's a novel, but jostein gaarder's solitaire mystery.
posted by timory at 11:17 AM on December 26, 2007

Try these search results from Las Vegas' Gamblers' Book Club.
posted by mosk at 11:30 AM on December 26, 2007

Errr....Gamblers' Book Club, Gambler's Book Shop.
posted by mosk at 11:32 AM on December 26, 2007

And in the category of completely on-topic yet totally not what you're looking for, there's one of the best business and investment books around: A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton Malkiel. The book is about taking the elements of luck, chance, and randomness into account when investing in or evaluating markets.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:54 AM on December 26, 2007

This is a really interesting question. I'm not surprised that the pickings are slim, since most folklore denies luck. Instead of dumb luck -- or even luck you can sway -- one's fate is determined by gods, witches, devils, demons, etc. I like the idea of a magic spell that can sway luck, but not totally control it: a spell that could, say, make a coin-toss produce heads 70% of the time. Don't know of anything like this, though.

For non-fiction (not exactly what you're asking about, but you may find it interesting), see "Fooled by Randomness" and "The Black Swan" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The latter was one of the best books I've read this year.
posted by grumblebee at 12:14 PM on December 26, 2007

The Dice Man
posted by adamvasco at 12:37 PM on December 26, 2007

Richard Wiseman's The Luck Factor tries to work out why people are lucky (or at least think they are lucky) and how the unlucky can become luckier. Here's some more about it.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:40 PM on December 26, 2007

kurt vonnegut's sirens of titan has a good luck charm, and the path it takes, as one of it's points.
posted by lester at 12:48 PM on December 26, 2007

The Cooler had William H Macy as a guy so unlucky, he was hired by a casino to go sit next to a hot player and kill his run. What's interesting is the way the movie treats luck as a real phenomenon.
posted by king walnut at 1:31 PM on December 26, 2007

Response by poster: Please note that I am specifically NOT looking for works of fiction that use luck as a plot point. That's what I am writing.

I'm interested in works of anthropology or sociology (or any other -ology that might cover it) describing what is considered lucky and unlucky in various cultures. I know your basic black cats, bad luck; four-leaf clovers, good luck. I'm looking for more of the same, as well as the equivalents in India, China, Nigeria, Brazil, Australia, anyplace else that has a distinct take on it.

Apologies if I wasn't clear.
posted by Andrhia at 2:57 PM on December 26, 2007

How about the Dictionary of Superstitions?

For example:
posted by acalthla at 3:08 PM on December 26, 2007

Response by poster: Dictionary of Superstitions seems like just the kind of thing I'm looking for - anyone have anything else along those lines?
posted by Andrhia at 5:41 PM on December 26, 2007

Have you combed through The Golden Bough yet?
posted by YamwotIam at 7:09 PM on December 26, 2007

Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman, seconded. Summary.
posted by eccnineten at 9:23 PM on December 26, 2007

My father's just written a novel about luck, and used a lot of philosophical references about the ideas of luck and chance. Probably not what you want, but if it might be any good, MeFi mail me.
posted by paduasoy at 5:39 AM on December 27, 2007

Jackson Lears, Something for Nothing: Luck in America.

I've never read it, despite a lingering interest in doing so, but I have read this interview with the author, and it seems like it might at least go near what you're looking for.

from the interview:
Since my first book, No Place of Grace, I have thought seriously about the cultural longing for transcendence that survived the economic rationality of the nineteenth century. I perceived that there was some kind of longing for grace that animated the impulse to gamble, and once I had hit on that hunch I began to find evidence of it everywhere. I began to see that there were connections between the gambler’s dice and the soothsayer’s bones. The gambler and the diviner were brothers under the skin. This led me to situate gambling in the midst of what I call a culture of chance, which includes all sorts of rituals and practices that use chance as a way of knowing or a way of trying to discern the will of the cosmos, the meaning of the universe, or even—in the case of Calvinist casting of lots—the will of God. The notion of luck is always communicated as an unearned gift, a free gift. Luck, like grace, is something that happens to you. You don’t earn it. To me, this represented a very deep realization at some fundamental level of the futility of striving and trying to control all outcomes, which seems to me at the heart of our dominant culture, whether in religious or secular forms. I began to see gambling and the culture of chance as a kind of counterpoint to this.
though it doesn't help with the other cultures aspect, I know.
posted by felix grundy at 7:48 AM on December 28, 2007

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