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The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable [Paperback]

Nassim Nicholas Taleb
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (225 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Feb 2008

A condensed guide to life from the bestselling author of The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Bed of Procrustes is an invaluable collection of aphorisms navigate the modern world

Why are we so often unwilling to accept that life is unpredictable? In this brilliant book Nassim Nicholas Taleb distils his idiosyncratic wisdom to demolish our illusions, contrasting the classical values of courage, elegance and erudition against modern philistinism and phoniness. Only by accepting what we don't know, he shows, can we see the world as it really is.

'Happily provocative ... blistering ... his observations concern superiority, wealth, suckerdom, academia, modernity, technology and the all-purpose, ignorant "they" ... very quotable'
  The New York Times

'A master philosopher'
  The Times

'Taleb's crystalline nuggets of thought stand alone like esoteric poems'
  Financial Times

'Opinionated and witty ... It showcases his wit and learning, and provides ways to fillet his enemies'
  Independent on Sunday

Nassim Nicholas Taleb spends most of his time as a flâneur, meditating in cafés across the planet. A former trader, he is currently Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University. He is the author of Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan, an international bestseller which has become an intellectual, social, and cultural touchstone.


Frequently Bought Together

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable + Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets + Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder
Price For All Three: 20.27

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Product details

  • Paperback: 394 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Re-issue edition (28 Feb 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141034599
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141034591
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.7 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (225 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Product Description

Review

Great fun … brash, stubborn, entertaining, opinionated, curious, cajoling (Freakonomics)

An idiosyncratically brilliant new book (Sunday Telegraph)

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

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

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

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

From the Publisher

Shortlisted for the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award 2007
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. Read the first page
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
221 of 231 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars In a nutshell: insightful but rambling 19 Jun 2009
Format:Paperback
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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511 of 540 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars right, interesting, but extremely irritating 28 Nov 2007
Format:Hardcover
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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78 of 84 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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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tiresome and Unoriginal 25 Nov 2008
By Grade A
Format:Paperback
As a statistician, the book and its premise struck me as an interesting read, but it is clear after a few chapters that the book itself is meandering nowhere. What is worse is that the evidence is always second hand philosophy and the book is peppered with uninteresting self promotion. If your idea of a good read is to re-read Bertrand Russell or to move towards a footnote where the author feels it important to tell you he doesnt wear a tie in meetings then, please, feel free to lap this up and all the sixth form anarchy that it attempts to promote.

As for the statistics, it is amateur stuff. The Black Swan itself is an improbable event on which the author places far too much emphasis. It soon becomes confused and contradictory. Originally boldly stating that bell curve analysis is all Information (or is it Intellectual?) fraud, in later chapters the author then splits outcomes up into factions, some of which are affected by the black swan and some that are not. It then becomes apparent that the author has taken five chapters to split outcomes into normal and non-normal. Ground breaking stuff, that has, errm, been around for centuries. Essentially this book ends up elaborating on the phrase 'Picking pennies in front of a steam roller' which is so familiar to all that, well, there is a phrase for it. This book is an irrelevance to statisticians. I cannot comment on the philosophy side, but, as far as I can see, there isnt a viewpoint that hasnt been borrowed from someone more famous. In short, this book is a huge disappointment.

It should also be noted that this book is unduly aggressive and self opinionated. I assume that this is to add gravitas to the subject. On this point it fails miserably. Instead it makes the author appear narcissistic, unbalanced, and, yes, a bit stupid. Its likely that many people who start this book will lack the desire to finish it. And that, sad to say, isnt a bad thing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars For the FT Subscriber
Sometimes it is claimed that those who write and profess about their successes, do so with the benefit of their supplementary publishing income. Read more
Published 7 days ago by Daniel Rozman
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Published 1 month ago by Neil Procter
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Black Swan
I chose this rating because it is brand new and clean as stated so I can recommend it to someone !
Published 2 months ago by taffy
5.0 out of 5 stars Is the Black Swan....a Black Swan?
So how do you define a book that is basically saying that everything you think about the potential for the pear shaped to happen to you at some point in the future is wrong? Read more
Published 2 months ago by Richard Atkinson
1.0 out of 5 stars Enough to put you off reading for life!
This is the first book I have given up on. The subject sounded an interesting one but from the first chapter it was a hard read. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Ed Robertson
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read if you want to exercise your brain
I have not finished this yet and don't want it to finish. The author challenges the way we think and act, using science, statistics and logic. Read more
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4.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly weird high-brow trolling.
Taleb goes out of his way to 'troll' the academic and business establishment. The book is crammed with hilariously overblown statements of grandeur and gloating, barefaced attacks... Read more
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