Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Learn more Shop now Learn more Fire Kids Edition Shop Kindle Listen with Prime Pre-order now Shop Men's Shop Women's

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item

There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 18 January 2008
There are two main issues with this work.

Firstly, the text suffers from Taleb's overarching ego making far too many obnoxious intrusions. After being repeatedly told that the arguments presented before me are axiomatically correct on the basis of Taleb's undoubted (but overrated) intelligence, this book is difficult to take seriously. Much of the text could be written as a playground taunt of "Say I'm right or I'll ignore you and call you thicko to my pals". Charming!

Secondly, after making some admittedly correct observations Taleb just doesn't seem to be able to help himself from spilling over into an unstructured rant, ending with some rather pompous platitudes that ruined the entire book for me. It's not that I entirely disagree with him, just that I believe Taleb should have more respect for his readership and humanity as a whole.

The work of a good editor could have transformed Fooled By Randomness into a genuinely entertaining read on the often misunderstood area of probability. This book could also work as a good introduction to the topic of free will vs. determinism, although suffering from being a little one sided in its outlook.

Also, given the reliance on anecdotal evidence, nobody of any serious intellect can give Fooled By Randomness too much credibility. This book is mostly at journalistic standards.

If you are interested in probability and related topics there are other authors out there who can do it so much better, and without the unnecessary baggage. If you're not, then this book is a pointless ramble that will confuse the uninformed and cause rancour in others.
33 comments| 41 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Every person who is interested in investing should read this book!
In investing, few can tell the difference between being lucky and smart. Being successful in the short term can come from either source. If it is coming from unrecognized sources of luck, however, the behavior that the investor associates with success can sink the ship. The cautionary tale of Long Term Capital Management is cited in the book as an example of this point. 'If you're so rich, why aren't you smart?' is the wonderful reversal here on the old saw.
I see this effect all the time in my consulting practice with helping companies understand how their decisions affect their stock price. A large percentage of people feel that they know all the answers when their stock price is rising. They keep doing the same things when the stocks are falling. Few survive to still have top jobs when the cycle shifts again. Then a new group of self-confident people take over who often don't know any more than those who preceded them. It's just that their track records look better.
Fooled by Randomness will help make you more knowledgeably humble about what you can expect to accomplish with investments. Not only do fewer than one percent outperform the market averages over long time periods, the ones who do are probably often being aided by luck as well. 'Get thee to the index funds as soon as possible' is the message that most should take away from this book. Better yet, buy them when multiples are low!
The book's fundamental point is that there is tremendous volatility in any investment. Ignore that volatility to your peril.
At the same time, you should be cautious about how well you understand the volatility. Stocks at their lows can still go to zero. There are all kinds of events that can happen, that have not done so yet. When they do, throw out all the old rules of investing. The terrorist attacks on the United States last week are probably an example of this. So each investment must be made as though you could be totally wrong. This means that you have to manage your risk exposure to events you don't even know how to expect.
I loved his example of the joint probabilities of having a rare disease if you get a positive result on a test for that disease. Even most doctors apparently don't know how to evaluate that one. If even well educated people cannot quantify two known risks occurring simultaneously in their own field, how can investors be expected to make good decisions?
Dr. Taleb has some very good advice for how to handle the psychology of being able to do this. He upholds the Stoic ideal -- 'the attempt by man to get even with probability' which encourages 'wisdom, upright dealing, and courage.' This means not chasing the latest investment fad or fashion, not looking at your investments very often, and being open to both sides of any idea (it could go wrong as well as right --what are the consequences of both?). I especially liked his idea of watching CNBC with the sound off so that the 'experts' seem humorous and you are less likely to hear and follow their advice. Even more poignant was his advice not to live on Park Avenue where living with all of the arrogant, temporarily lucky can make you feel small. Instead, live somewhere that the results of your cautious approach will cause you to be the envy of all.
Dr. Taleb impressed me with his willingness to tell stories on himself about how quickly he can become superstitious when things are going well, take on excess risks, and start looking too short term. After all, we are only human!
The importance of this book can only be appreciated if you go back and think about your biggest investing successes. How much was luck versus skill? A good way to test is to see if the same approach has continued to work for you whenever you use it. Another good test is to see how often it would have backfired in the past.
In my research on good decision making, I find that those who guard the downside first make the most money in the long run. They are able to find ways to get the best of both worlds!
Remember that the two-edged sword can cut in either direction!
0Comment| 18 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 18 August 2009
'Fooled by Randomness' is clearly a text which provokes different responses in different people. This was of particular appeal to me when purchasing the book as I think that any text which has landed 5 star glittering reviews whilst also being branded with 1star "stay away" warnings is worth a look.

Having finished the book I can certainly identify with this split reaction. You can't help but acknowledge some of Taleb's ideas as being extremely relevant to many aspects of life and particularly, the over hyped status attributed to much of the banking world. His opinion that much of a trader's financial performance is due to market noise and randomness rather than his/her speculative skill will, I'm sure, strike a particularly welcome tone to many of us who are feeling the effects of the current financial meltdown. It's surely about time that bankers get over their egos and face up to the responsibility of their risk taking decision processes.

Having said this, Taleb's writing style is incredibly narcissistic. He is clearly very pleased with himself for assimilating a host of ideas which predominantly stem from mathematical, philosophical and psychological literature and applying them to an economic framework. This, in my opinion, is where he starts to go wrong. His book is incredibly anecdotal and has a habit of touching on a topic for a few paragraphs and then moving on (often saying that he will return to something later in the book). This flighty approach means that he never really gives you a sense of closure on any of the ideas he is talking about. He boasts an impressive reading list at the end of the book which he pretentiously rams into many of the chapters, for instance, often quoting the results of empirical psychological findings. However, his book is anything but empirical. It is speculative and subjective and if anything, Taleb comes across as being more of a glorified gossip than an intellectual thinker.

For example, p224 he introduces the concept of Wittgenstein's ruler and applies it to how he deals with receiving criticism regarding his book: "Unless you have confidence in the ruler's reliability, if you use a ruler to measure a table you may also be using the table to measure the ruler....The point carries practical implications: The information from anonymous reader on is going to be all about the person, whilst that of a qualified person, is going to be all about the book."

I think that this statement truly reveals Taleb's inconsistency as, in my opinion, this statement is merely an extension of the very principles which he has used in this book. Surely he is fooling himself by refusing to acknowledge the credibility of an anonymous reviewer's opinion who may not, in his eyes, have the relevant professional qualifications. In my opinion, this shows a lack of rational thought and an inability to see through his pompous image. Forgoing this, if I were to apply this same level of discriminatory analysis to him using Wittgenstein's ruler, I would say that this book reveals more about him than any of the concepts he discusses. Most of the literature he has assimilated has been around for years and exists, in the most part, in a far more empirical form than the way he portrays it. One could argue he over attributes importance to himself and his profession by borrowing psychological concepts to promote the ideas like "behavioural economics". This is clearly a logical cross disciplinary connection but, when combined with his arrogance, it makes you feel like he is suggesting that the psychological principles in question have only gained importance once they have been fitted to their economic framework.

I can't help but think that Taleb is a bit contradictory when it comes to the alignment of his message and that of his writing style. All in all, a bit of a confused book but worth reading to get your head around the arguments he puts forward. Definitely not a ground breaking text. This is a clear illustration of the exaggerated egos which exist within the banking world. Taleb clearly loves himself.
0Comment| 10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 23 August 2016
This is an absolutely extraordinary book - really life-changing. If you want to become a more incisive thinker, or develop your critical thinking - or never fall for the BS of an 'expert' - then this is a terrific read. It will help you understand how to apply scientific methodology to everyday life and to be happier and more accepting of what life throws at you. I'm not sure this was the author's intention, but it's a definite outcome or benefit.

The author is a deep thinker about probability and scientific methodology and is extremely well-read in philosophy. A real pleasure to read, and a real eye-opener on what is actually behind the success of businesses, business people, traders, and just about anything else you care to mention. He particularly highlights the folly of believing the 'magic touch' of the likes of central bankers, economists and MBAs, as well as explaining how and why most journalism is toxic. He'll show you just how truly ignorant and fallible 'experts' tend to be, and why.

Okay, so I'm a fan of philosophy of science and scientific methodology. For me, reading this was like coming home and getting into a warm bath. I wish everyone would read it so that we could change society for the better by ridding ourselves of overpaid CEOs, idiotic central bankers and poor journalism.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 21 March 2012 provides an interesting statistical commentary on this and all other products on its site: a graphic of the relative proportions of different star ratings assigned by customer reviews. If you flip this on its side it looks a lot more like what it is: a statistical representation of customers' views of the book.

Nassim Taleb's Fooled by Randomness has an unusual "curve": a short "head" of 5 star reviews and a long tail of lesser ratings which doesn't tail off. (it's even flatter on!) A large standard deviation, then, against a mean of four stars, compared to Leonard Mlodinow's The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives - also a four star average, but a much more conventional distribution of grades with a tighter standard deviation (a consistent curve from 50% five star to 2% one star, against Taleb's 46% five star and 11% one star).

So I have learned something from this (or Mlodinow's) book.

Having being equally entertained and aggravated by Taleb's more recent The Black Swan, I was leery of picking up this earlier effort. While Taleb is undoubtedly stimulating literary company, he verges on being a crashing bore, often crossing the verge and ramming your letterbox or driving through the living room windows. He seems also harbours some unremedied professional grievances - the award of Nobel prizes is something in particular which irks him. His writing is constantly grandiose and egotistical - but Taleb is self-aware enough to not only realise but celebrate that fact.

So a real vegemite, love-him-or-hate-him sort of writer. Fooled By Randomness is, if anything, *more* bombastic thasn The Black Swan, but its content less interesting. Its first half comprises mainly anecdotes (possibly apocryphal) about colleagues unnamed, and Taleb's repeated efforts to persuade you just how well and voraciously read he is. (Interestingly in Black Swan he places much store in his *anti-library* - the books he has not read). Taleb's early observations about probability are pat, under-explained and, as other reviewers point out, have been more thoroughly and less idiosyncratically expounded by others (my recommendation is Leonard Mlodinow's book cited above).

On probability itself, Taleb's love of anecdote sometimes contradicts his own preaching. At one point he recounts a bit of "anecdotal empiricism" as to "Anchoring" of expectation. "I asked the local hotel concierge how long it takes to go to the airport. "40 minutes?" I asked. "About 35" he answered. Then I asked the lady at the reception if the journey was 20 minutes. "No, about 25" she said. I timed the trip: 31 minutes.

Two paragraphs later, in his next anecdote, Taleb rails against the stupidity of a man who derives conclusions from a single observation.

There is a seam of useful information in the second half of this book, but you must wade through quite a lot of self-aggrandisement to find it, and none is unique: as mentioned, there are better presented and less irritating accounts of the same information elsewhere, so Mr Taleb may be disappointed to see yet another equivocal assessment of his book on this site.

Except, he tells us, he won't be: he doesn't read or care about "amateur" reviewers on Amazon anyway, so no harm done.

Olly Buxton
0Comment| 5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 8 October 2001
This book is a must read for all investors however sophisticated they think they might be. In Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Taleb sheds light on an aspect of investing that very few players are ready to acknowledge for fear it would deal a massive blow to their egos: Lady Fortuna, the role that pure luck plays in any investment performance. It is an essential reality check for those who are so obsessed with return that they forget about its inescapable companion, risk. Taleb is a master at illustrating complex mathematical concepts with very simple images that anybody can understand. Take the powerful image of the Russian Roulette: You don't need a PhD to immediately grasp the concept of alternative histories and realise that you have to judge a performance by the cost of the alternative rather than just the most favorable outcome. In addition to being very informative, this book makes for very entertaining reading. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
0Comment| 13 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 13 January 2013
Taleb has a nice "angle" on life. This starts with his admission that he's a stock-market trader aware of his own flaws. He demonstrates that markets are affected by pure chance far more than most people realise. He also shows how those same people are extremely poorly equipped to understand how chance and probability work. To further legitimise this view, be refers to other parts of life that suffer from similar effects. He delights in taking swipes at journalists, businessmen and anyone with an MBA along the way. And he names names.

His central thesis is not in any way new, but it's a nice compendium of all the standard stuff on the subject (we can't know what we don't know, survivorship bias, Solon's warning, logical fallacies, etc.) all knitted together by his own peculiar style of imparting wisdom while adopting an increasingly thin veil of modesty as the book goes on. Reading this is a bit like being collared by your trice-married Gore Vidal wannabe uncle at a Christmas party. He's the one with a big belly who made a career at a multi-national doing something the rest of the family is uninterested in. He now envies your youth and wants to punish you for it with a man-to-man talk about how to get on in life. I quite enjoyed his style, even if sometimes I was chuckling at him rather than with him.

If there is a significant problem with the book, it's that Taleb seems at times to forget that there's more to human endeavour than making money from stock markets. This is a pity as I think he would have written a much better book had he looked in more detail at things like the world of medicine or social science, which he skates over rather quickly. Given the fact that most people already think the world of finance is in the gutter anyway, it's hardly a revelation to discover they're also idiots as well. Doctors, politicians and lawyers, on the other hand, might be better targets for Taleb's analysis.
0Comment| 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 20 September 2008
This is surely one of the most overrated popular science books of recent years. Taleb has become a media darling (particularly in the business press) because few journalists there realise that little of what he writes is new or original. And the tone throughout is irritating and patronising. For a much better treatment of many of the same topics, by a humbler and more readable author, buy John Allen Paulos "Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences" (if it's still in print).
0Comment| 31 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 25 August 2008
If you nkow the basics of statistics, you'll find nothing new and amazing in this book. However it is a time passing reading and gives the opportunity to remind you of the things you normally attribute to ability and skill. Sometime we tend to overstimate people. I think it is well worth the money of a paperback. One star less for no new discovery and one star less because he considers himself the only one enlightened.
0Comment| 6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 1 March 2016
Definitely a very thought provoking book that I found hard to put down but hard to read in roughly equal measures. The content has something to do with this, but also, as other reviewers have stated because the style of the book is more than a little 'rant-like'.

Taleb talks about how important luck is in many things, such as the success of traders or CEOs. He treats most professions such as CEO's, Traders and journalists (especially journalists) with scorn but shows impeccable judgement by holding physicists in high regard.

As a physicist I've always thought that I understood randomness, but feel that I've probably learnt more about asymmetrical risk from this book than I knew before. I've also learnt a fair bit about finance and poetry (I was moved when I was inspired by this book to read the whole of "God Abandons Anthony" by Cavafy).

I've just ordered The Black Swan so must have been impressed.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)