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The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable [Kindle Edition]

Nassim Nicholas Taleb
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (275 customer reviews)

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Book Description

What have the invention of the wheel, Pompeii, the Wall Street Crash, Harry Potter and the internet got in common? Why are all forecasters con-artists? What can Catherine the Great's lovers tell us about probability? Why should you never run for a train or read a newspaper? This book is all about Black Swans: the random events that underlie our lives, from bestsellers to world disasters. Their impact is huge; they're impossible to predict; yet after they happen we always try to rationalize them. A rallying cry to ignore the 'experts', The Black Swan shows us how to stop trying to predict everything - and take advantage of uncertainty.

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Product Description


Great fun . brash, stubborn, entertaining, opinionated, curious, cajoling (Stephen J. Dubner, author of Freakonomics)

An idiosyncratically brilliant new book (Niall Ferguson Sunday Telegraph)

A fascinating study of how we are regularly taken for suckers by the unexpected (Larry Elliot Guardian)

Like the conversation of a raconteur ... hugely enjoyable - compelling (John Kay Financial Times)

Confirms his status as a guru for every would-be Damien Hirst, George Soros and aspirant despot (John Cornwell Sunday Times)

In the tradition of The Wisdom of Crowds and The Tipping Point (Time)

Niall Ferguson, Sunday Telegraph

'An idiosyncratically brilliant new book'

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More About the Author

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has devoted his life to problems of uncertainty, probability, and knowledge. He spent two decades as a trader before becoming a philosophical essayist and academic researcher. Although he now spends most of his time either working in intense seclusion in his study, or as a flâneur meditating in cafés across the planet, he is currently Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University's Polytechnic Institute. His main subject matter is "decision making under opacity", that is, a map and a protocol on how we should live in a world we don't understand.

His works are grouped under the general title Incerto (latin for uncertainty), composed of a trilogy accessible in any order (Antifragile, The Black Swan, and Fooled by Randomness) plus two addenda: a book of philosophical aphorisms (The Bed of Procrustes) and a freely available Technical Companion. Taleb's books have been published in thirty-three languages.

Taleb believes that prizes, honorary degrees, awards, and ceremonialism debase knowledge by turning it into a spectator sport.

""Imagine someone with the erudition of Pico de la Mirandola, the skepticism of Montaigne, solid mathematical training, a restless globetrotter, polyglot, enjoyer of fine wines, specialist of financial derivatives, irrepressible reader, and irascible to the point of readily slapping a disciple." La Tribune (Paris)

A giant of Mediterranean thought ... Now the hottest thinker in the world", London Times
"The most prophetic voice of all" GQ

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By NicE
Like most of the other reviewers, I found author's style grating at first. But after a while I clicked with NNT's sense of humour and did end up laughing a number of times through the book (especially at the footnotes).

As I understood it, his central point is: Most of the key changes in all social economic fields occur owing to a very small number of extreme events. Invariably, these events are completely missed by the people you are paid to predict the future and identify the consequences of actions of governments and banks for example, signally fail to do so.

NNT is questioning the self supporting academic and professional business establishment who seem not to care that they consistently fail to predict events - with devastating consequences.

As far as the "rambling style" other mention: i thought that this was part of his point; we should not seek to explain Black Swam randomness with a elegant theory or impressive model, since these devices seek to reduce and simplify the complex reality.

There is no formula for working out this kind of randomness. We are invited to open our minds and trust in our common sense and perhaps think more defensively about the possibility of the unknown unknown.
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243 of 256 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars In a nutshell: insightful but rambling 19 Jun. 2009
There are many reviews here already, so I'll keep this short:

- Content: makes insightful points on limitations of our knowledge, human temptation to identify false trends and narratives, follow herd mentality, blindly follow 'experts', and so forth. He calls this 'skeptical empiricism'.

- Style: long-winded and rambling, skipping from personal stories from Lebanon, to parables intended to represent the author, to dull discussions on history of mathematics. I didn't mind it, but some readers hate it.

- Author: massively arrogant and up himself. Thinks he's had the best idea since sliced bread. He's got a good idea, but he's not the first or the only one, just the one with the biggest mouth.

- Other reads: there are better books out there on similar subjects. John Kay (of the FT) writes essays from a similar position, much more concisely and more to the point.

Hope that helps!
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518 of 548 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars right, interesting, but extremely irritating 28 Nov. 2007
Taleb has one good idea, a great idea even, and an infinite number of ways of talking about it. It is essentially the same idea as his last book, Fooled by Randomness: namely that life does not behave with regularity. Those who think it does, he says, will always be tripped up by the unexpected. Black Swan extends that idea, beyond the financial markets he concentrated on in Randomness, to just about all walks of life. He is a magpie for anecdote and stray pieces of supporting evidence wherever he can find them. He calls all this 'skeptical empiricism'.
The qualification is that his big idea is not original, though his numerous examples do help bring home its ubiquity. More problematically, he overstates its usefulness. For when it comes to calling your next move, the unpredictable and the unexpected are, by definition, not things we can anticipate. And though he is right that in the long run there will undoubtedly by high impact improbably events, it is also true, as Keynes said, that in the long run we are all dead: organising your life on the principle that something radical might come along doesn't solve the everyday problem of what to next.
In short, he exaggerates his own insight and the authority it gives him. That's a wicked irony, for the chief target of his ire is those with an exaggerated sense of insight and control over their lives.
Oh, and the tone... Taleb wants to be seen as a radical iconoclast. Every sentence drips righteousness and often irritation. He is the strutting, impatient sage, the rest of us blinkered morons. Apparently he doesn't like his editors trying to change this. A word of advice to the author: if you want your advice heeded, don't shout and sneer at your audience. For this reason, an interesting thesis, but in the end a wearisome read.
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83 of 90 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I must admit that I approached reading this book with some trepidation. I had read Taleb's earlier book "Fooled By Randomness" and whilst I found that book very interesting I also found it very exasperating. This book was the same, only more so.

The central theme of the book is that unexpected random events are much more likely to have far greater impact than is presumed by traditional statistics . In contrast he shows that there are domains where extreme events or values are more frequent and dominate overall. Taleb's arguments are convincing and he also shows why prediction in general is very difficult and describes human being's desires to post-rationalise events. Because prediction is thus impossible and because the impact of these extreme random events (the 'Black Swans') is so large his argument is that this makes a mockery of much of history, economics and financial theory.

The main problem with the book is the tone of the author. Taleb clearly does not suffer fools gladly and it seems that he considers most people in economics, finance, statistics and academia as fools. He comes across as believing that he is the only one who really gets these ideas. His constant attacks on the 'dark suits' and academics (not to mention several strange jibes at the French) become very wearing. Also his dismissal of the normal distribution is overdone since there are clearly areas where it works well.

All in all a very good book but I wish he would overcome his arrogance before the next one.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Taleb is a pompous git, but highly entertaining and ...
Taleb is a pompous git, but highly entertaining and unquestionably widely read. Perhaps the thesis didn't require a book-length treatment.
Published 4 days ago by Ben WK
4.0 out of 5 stars Creates a shift in perspective--worth reading
Always interesting to read a book that shifts your perspective on things!
Published 10 days ago by Talane Miedaner
3.0 out of 5 stars Great book just not my cup of tea...
Intelligent, extremely well researched and has observations and insights that are fascinating. However, this is not for the casual reader (my fundamental mistake). Read more
Published 18 days ago by hrhnair
2.0 out of 5 stars The author begins the book with a good point (black swans)
The author begins the book with a good point (black swans), then takes a gigantic leap of reason to land on extremely shaky ground to write the rest of a book based on ridiculous... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mr. N. J. Robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars Swans
Self obsessed but still an interesting read
Published 1 month ago by legbreak
3.0 out of 5 stars an interesting concept and worth reading as thought provoking. ...
an interesting concept and worth reading as thought provoking. However, I think the writing could have been more concise and less ponderous. Read more
Published 1 month ago by meryon
5.0 out of 5 stars delivered as advertised
delivered as advertised
Published 2 months ago by andrew pettitt
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 2 months ago by Margaret Steele
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Works for me
Published 4 months ago by M. M.
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