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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There are no simple answers: trust common sense not theories
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...
Published on 8 May 2011 by NicE

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233 of 245 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars In a nutshell: insightful but rambling
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...
Published on 19 Jun 2009 by A. Schaffer


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233 of 245 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars In a nutshell: insightful but rambling, 19 Jun 2009
By 
A. Schaffer "theschaff" (London) - See all my reviews
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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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513 of 543 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars right, interesting, but extremely irritating, 28 Nov 2007
By 
Dean Swift (Hertfordshire) - See all my reviews
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There are no simple answers: trust common sense not theories, 8 May 2011
By 
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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80 of 87 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book somewhat spoiled by the tone of the author, 29 May 2008
By 
David Barton (London) - See all my reviews
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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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56 of 62 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tiresome and Unoriginal, 25 Nov 2008
By 
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A rambling semi-autobiographical account of a telling insight, 16 Jan 2010
By 
M. Muddasar (England, UK) - See all my reviews
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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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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An a interesting article masquerading as a book, 10 Sep 2009
A Kid's Review
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, once an ex-trader, is now Professor of the Sciences of Uncertainty (what a job title!).
The basic idea behind the book is that people ignore highly improbable events because they are unpredictable. However some of these event can have a massive impact, and in these cases people then try to suggest that it was after all predictable. The book is topical because it argues that traders and financial markets ignore the unpredictable and don't even learn from past mistakes (however this book is not an analysis of the recent meltdown in financial markets). The author argues that the "unlikely" tail of a distribution of likely events is disproportionately important. I would have thought everyone knew that, even if we tend to be bad at estimating the exact size of "rare" risks.
There are literally 100's of reviews on this book, and opinions are very divergent. My guess is that the more people know about the ideas of uncertainty and predictability the more negative their review. For others, every line and anecdote is a revelation. The most astute reviewers accept that randomness produces unpredictability, but they understand that we must build our lives around a good degree of predicability. We all accept that the author does a reasonably job describing (with lots of repetition) this situation but does nothing to tell us how to cope with and better manage uncertainly and its consequences. Lets face it, we build homes even if they might be struck by lightning, but we try to mitigate their potential impact through good building practices and we also create emergency service to help out when such random and unpredictable events occur (in my opinion what was missing in the recent mess in financial markets was the understanding of good practices enforced through a strong regulator). I also agree with those reviewers who found the authors tone at times irritating, as if he has the word of God and people are just not intelligent enough to listen to him.
To conclude, I like the overall idea behind the book, but I was expecting a real analysis and some suggestions as to how to understand and better manage rare and catastrophic events. But sadly all a got was a short article masquerading as a book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just finished it, can't stop thinking about it, 1 July 2012
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I have read the reviews after I read the book, and I am pleased I did. I might not have read it.

The concepts in the book put it in my top three (non-fiction) books I have ever read. It's possible it's all c&@p, but I don't think so, clearly others do. Other reviews cover the content more than adequately, I will just say that it is as people/culture challenging as it is billed, if you buy in to it. And I pretty much have. However his style is very poor. NNT's method of a vaguely academic structure (the is a lot of "as I said in chapter 14" etc) does not make for easy going over often quite rough academic terrain. I sometimes had to dig for the good stuff, and frequently I found an argument made is more restatement than new interpretation, but hey-ho. And a lot of his narrative tales of Nero et al should have been left out. I agree with the reviewer who said the editor, whatever his name was, should have tried harder.

Simply put it comes across as if written by someone who has been shouting at the deaf for a very long time, and has lost a little of his coherence in the process.

But that doesn't make him wrong or not insightful or that you shouldnt listen just because he is out numbered. Like other reviewers I found elements extraordinarily enlightening, and often worked thinking on subjects I had been amateurishly exploring myself.

I believe he underestimates the value of being frequently wrong but getting on with it and doing it together, which has shepherded us humans quite far so far. And he leaves religion and mental health well alone, both big targets for his narrative fallacy critique. Maybe he's got enough enemies already.

Don't read this review. Buy the book, think about it, then check out the reviews. They add to the experience.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun and thoughtful, yet irritating and superficial, 10 Mar 2009
By 
Erik Cleves Kristensen "ECK" (Mozambique) - See all my reviews
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I greatly enjoyed the first chapters of this book: Mr. Taleb was presenting some challenging ideas to science, challenging some existing discourses and the supremacy of expertism and statistics of our time. For a social scientist like myself, it was a refreshing place to start on some challenging ideas that I think all serious social scientist graple with.
But as I finished the book, I saw that Mr. Taleb never got beyond expressing the idea, and that made it awfully superficial.

The second part of the book was outright annoying, as Mr. Taleb falls in the trap of being an "empirical sceptic" to everyone but himself (funny how scepticism does not seem to apply to his own ideas) and in the end provides absolutely nothing new to scientific epistemology but a "self-development" pseudo-pocket phisosophical explanation about how we all should live life waiting for the unexpected...
Big news....
The ending is thus hugely disappointing for everyone looking for a serious challenge to the leading epistemology of our time, and Mr. Taleb's good humour and stories end up like a financial buble "Black Swan" that I was certainly not expecting at the start of the book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good hard read, 30 Jun 2008
I picked this up in a train station as it was top of the best sellers in Smiths and it seemed to be advertised everywhere. After the first few pages I was surprised that such a book was as popular as it is a paper on philosophy and mathematics. However, Taleb's writing is interesting and I was drawn in with the personal accounts, his anger at the bell shaped curve and disgust at those that seek false risk protection from equations they don't understand.

Although my background is not economics this book still relates to the management of risks and specifically changing the way you think about that pile of numbers on the spreadsheet. This is the point of the book as well, not to present the one solution to manage Black Swans (highly improbable events), but to look at your environment and be aware that there are other risks out there and to deal with them in a practicable way.

Above all the book is interesting for exploring the logic of his idea and although he worships a certain Mandelbrot, B the book is actually quite funny in places.
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The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Hardcover - 1 Dec 2011)
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