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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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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
245 of 258 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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521 of 551 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not all that bad 4 Jan. 2013
By Athan TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Everybody knows this is a lazy sequel to a succesful book.

But I never read Fooled by Randomness, and I hold a couple math degrees, and I even once took a class from a hydrologist, so I reckon I'm well-equipped to pass judgement.

The main issue with the book is that if you read the inside of the jacket carefully you don't need to read the rest of the book. There's one idea here and it's that you never know if you've looked at enough data. If you presume you do, you run the risk that you'll get a surprise which upsets your world theory. That surprise is a bit like the first time you encounter a black swan. Turning that core idea into a (second!) book is indeed a stretch.

The second issue is that the author appears to be rather conceited / self centered and just keeps repeating how right he's got this idea and how wrong everybody else has got it. It gets tiring. He does not even get that point entirely right either. Lots of people's job description is to project current trends an hour forward. It ain't their fault.

The third issue is that it's a quote a minute from all sorts of sources and after a while you get the feeling the author is kind of trying to convince you he's covered all the bases. Or maybe that he's a truly erudite renaissance man who's done a lot of reading. Hey, maybe he had a word limit. You can't get there just by playing with the margins like we all once did in college.

On the plus side, the book is not as dreadful to read as the critics have it, and THE MAN IS RIGHT about the point (note that I'm not using the plural) he makes.

If you're stuck on a plane and the guy sitting next to you puts down his copy of the Black Swan, don't be afraid to pick it up, it's OK.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A most engaging collection of anecdotes serving to illustrate Taleb's central Black Swan contention - that it's the unknowable (minute probability) big impact events that we must bear in mind when thinking about the course of the future (and we should avoid seeing causal patterns where there are none).

The back cover has Penguin Books designate this title under Economics, but Psychology would be more appropriate as most of the material deals with human decision-making - citing your favourite Kahneman-Tversky experiments along the way.

He makes a big effort to show how his idea is very much bound up with him as a person, so in that respect the autobiographical asides are justified. But towards the end he abandons all sense of modesty when he likens himself to the eminent mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot. Early on, he does explicitly state that he'd like to be considered a philosopher, and sometimes the pit-stop introspections seem out of place.

Definitely an intelligent thinker, but a little too eager to show just how well-read he is. His narrative is nicely sign-posted and he does a very good job of chronicling other people's work in light of his own ideas, so it also serves as a nice place to pick up commentary from intellectual figures you might not have previously heard of.

Contrary to what Chris Anderson is quoted as saying on the cover, it isn't "mindblowing" or "a masterpiece". You might already be aware of many of its ancillary insights.

Others here have commented on the messy style; to be fair it does read like a scrap-book of anecdotes. But I'm glad I read it. I won't remember much of the detail, as he does flit from one story to the next, but the central insights will help me to bear certain things in mind. So it deserves to be read, but you might find yourself rushing through some parts to get to the gist.
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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 1 month 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 1 month 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 1 month 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 2 months ago by Mr. N. J. Robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars Swans
Self obsessed but still an interesting read
Published 2 months 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 2 months ago by meryon
5.0 out of 5 stars delivered as advertised
delivered as advertised
Published 3 months ago by andrew pettitt
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 3 months ago by Margaret Steele
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Works for me
Published 5 months ago by M. M.
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