Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719, is one of the world’s best-known adventure stories. The hero, finding himself shipwrecked and stranded on a desert island, survives for over 20 years before being rescued, relying on his own ingenuity and on the loyal assistance of his servant, Friday, a native whom he rescues from cannibals. Less well known, but perhaps even more adventurous, is the story of Daniel Defoe, the novel’s author. An incompetent investor of tragicomic proportions, Defoe spent the better part of his life losing fortunes in one absurd scam after another, before finally turning to novel-writing as a form of income in his old age. Along the way, however, he developed a fascination for the rapidly evolving world of insurance, pensions, and actuarial science.
This article appeared in the January/February 2008 issue of Contingencies, a bimonthly magazine published by the American Academy of Actuaries.
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