International Statistical Review
Short Book Reviews


An Accidental Statistician: The Life and Memories of George E. P. Box

George E. P. Box


Table of contents


1.  Early Years
2.  Army Life
3.  ICI and the Statistical Methods Panel
4.  George Barnard
5.  An Invitation to the United States
6.  Princeton
7.  A New Life in Madison
8.  Time Series
9.  George Tiao and the Bayes Book
10. Growing Up (Helen and Harry)
11. Fisher - Father and Son
12. Bill Hunter and Some Ideas on Experimental Design
13. The Quality Movement
14. Adventures with Claire
15. The Many Sides of Mac
16. Life in England
17. Journeys to Scandinavia
18. A Second Home in Spain
19. The Royal Society of London
20. Conclusion
21. Memories
Index (10 pages)


Readership: Biographical fans of the life story of a very famous statistician.


Joining the British Army when World War 2 broke out in 1939 would not, at first sight, appear to provide a suitable initial career path for a man who would become one of the world’s leading and most famous statisticians. Yet that is exactly what happened to George Box. After becoming involved with army experiments to combat the effects of poison gas, he realized the need to understand the principles of good experimental design in order to determine accurate ways to improve product development. He requested permission from army authorities to visit R. A. Fisher for statistical guidance. Since the army had no standard procedure for a sergeant to visit a professor, he was given a warrant that said he was taking a horse to Cambridge! After the war, he earned a Ph.D. at London University, studying under E.S. Pearson and H. O. Hartley.  This led on to a position as a statistician in the Manchester Dyestuffs Division of Imperial Chemical Industries, a major chemical company of the time in the United Kingdom. He spent a year visiting North Carolina State College at Raleigh, where he supervised the thesis of his later co-author J. S. (Stu) Hunter, and then to a wider study of statistics in the US academic worlds of Princeton University and the University of Wisconsin. George rose rapidly to fame throughout the statistical world for his amazing advancement of several important areas of statistical theory and practice, including experimental design and time series analysis. He was a continuing source of inspiration to a large number of former graduate students, to his colleagues and his co-authors, and to many others worldwide. His weekly “Beer and Statistics” seminars at his home, featuring a variety of informal speakers with real data problems, and followed up by discussion and suggestions for how best to proceed, remain a fond memory of many University of Wisconsin students and faculty. The students swore they learned more in the seminars than they ever did in class! In this superb book, George tells his fascinating story with his own wry and inimitable humor.


George Box died on Thursday March 28, 2013 at age 94, just as his book became available. It is a fitting tribute to a superb statistician and popular man. His memorial service was attended by many of his former graduate students. Many of them brought copies of the book to the service in silent tribute.


Norman R. Draper:
Department of Statistics, University of Wisconsin – Madison
1300 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706-1532, USA


  © Thomas Hoskyns Leonard, 2012 - 2013