- Paperback: 394 pages
- Publisher: Penguin (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: 3.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (320 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,288 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Paperback – 28 Feb 2008
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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 the Audio CD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
- 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!
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Thank you so much for the book. It looks like new! I love it!Published 22 hours ago by Amazon Customer
..................................................................................................................................................................................... Read morePublished 4 days ago by Amazon Customer
I am put off reading any of Nassim Taleb's books by the fact that he is the worst public speaker I have ever encountered. Read morePublished 23 days ago by Marmaduke
There are two main issues with this book.
The first is the author's inexplicable arrogance and sense of superiority. Read more
Just had to wipe clean the jacket cover. Otherwise very goodPublished 3 months ago by Michael Clark
I am only half way through it and already thoroughly disappointed. The writing is pretty bad for any kind of book. Read morePublished 3 months ago by fast_reader
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