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Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets [Hardcover]

Nassim Nicholas Taleb
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (214 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 14 2008 Incerto
Fooled by Randomness is a standalone book in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s landmark Incerto series, an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision-making in a world we don’t understand. The other books in the series are The Black Swan, Antifragile, and The Bed of Procrustes.

Now in a striking new hardcover edition, Fooled by Randomness is the word-of-mouth sensation that will change the way you think about business and the world. Nassim Nicholas Taleb–veteran trader, renowned risk expert, polymathic scholar, erudite raconteur, and New York Times bestselling author of The Black Swan–has written a modern classic that turns on its head what we believe about luck and skill.

This book is about luck–or more precisely, about how we perceive and deal with luck in life and business. Set against the backdrop of the most conspicuous forum in which luck is mistaken for skill–the world of trading–Fooled by Randomness provides captivating insight into one of the least understood factors in all our lives. Writing in an entertaining narrative style, the author tackles major intellectual issues related to the underestimation of the influence of happenstance on our lives.

The book is populated with an array of characters, some of whom have grasped, in their own way, the significance of chance: the baseball legend Yogi Berra; the philosopher of knowledge Karl Popper; the ancient world’s wisest man, Solon; the modern financier George Soros; and the Greek voyager Odysseus. We also meet the fictional Nero, who seems to understand the role of randomness in his professional life but falls victim to his own superstitious foolishness.

However, the most recognizable character of all remains unnamed–the lucky fool who happens to be in the right place at the right time–he embodies the “survival of the least fit.” Such individuals attract devoted followers who believe in their guru’s insights and methods. But no one can replicate what is obtained by chance.

Are we capable of distinguishing the fortunate charlatan from the genuine visionary? Must we always try to uncover nonexistent messages in random events? It may be impossible to guard ourselves against the vagaries of the goddess Fortuna, but after reading Fooled by Randomness we can be a little better prepared.


Named by Fortune One of the Smartest Books of All Time

A Financial Times Best Business Book of the Year

“[Fooled by Randomness] is to conventional Wall Street wisdom approximately what Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses were to the Catholic Church.”
–Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink

“The book that rolled down Wall Street like a hand grenade.”
–Maggie Mahar, author of Bull! A History of the Boom, 1982—1999

“Fascinating . . . Taleb will grab you.”
–Peter L. Bernstein, author of Capital Ideas Evolving

“Recalls the best of scientist/essayists like Richard Dawkins . . . and Stephen Jay Gould.”
–Michael Schrage, author of Serious Play: How the World’s Best Companies Simulate to Innovate

“We need a book like this. . . . Fun to read, refreshingly independent-minded.”
–Robert J. Shiller, author of Irrational Exuberance

“Powerful . . . loaded with crackling little insights [and] extreme brilliance.”
–National Review

Frequently Bought Together

Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets + Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder + The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms
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Product Description

From Amazon

If the prescriptions for getting rich that are outlined in books such as The Millionaire Next Door and Rich Dad Poor Dad are successful enough to make the books bestsellers, then one must ask, Why aren't there more millionaires? In Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a professional trader and mathematics professor, examines what randomness means in business and in life and why human beings are so prone to mistake dumb luck for consummate skill. This eccentric and highly personal exploration of the nature of randomness meanders from the court of Croesus and trading rooms in New York and London to Russian roulette, Monte Carlo engines, and the philosophy of Karl Popper. Part of what makes this book so good is Taleb's ability to make seemingly arcane mathematical concepts (at least to this reviewer) entirely relevant in evaluating and understanding everything from the stock market to the success of those millionaires cited in the aforementioned bestsellers. Here's an articulate, wise, and humorous meditation on the nature of success and failure that anyone who wants a little more of the former would do well to consider. Highly recommended. --Harry C. Edwards --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In this look at financial luck, hedge fund manager Taleb (Dynamic Hedging) addresses the apparently irrational movement of money markets around the world. Using his own investing experience and examples of others' successes and disappointments, he discusses theories like Monte Carlo math (easy; considered cheating by purists) and the concept of Russian roulette. Taleb tells interesting, well-wrought stories about individual behavior: "While Nero has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, both personally and intellectually, he is starting to consider himself as having missed a chance somewhere." While serious investors and mathematics enthusiasts will be intrigued, readers looking for practical investment strategies will be disappointed by this rambling intellectual discourse. Tables. 40,000-copy first printing; $150,000 marketing budget.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Musings from a Smart and Interesting Guy Nov. 4 2003
Taleb hammers home two or maybe three key ideas, padding them with an eclectic blend of autobiographical references and philosophical/literary yarns. When I put it down, I felt a little bit like I had just shared a brandy with a really smart guy who wanted to spend the evening talking about himself. Fortunately, it works because you get an unfettered (and not heavily filtered or re-edited) peek into a brilliant and well-read intellect. The best thing about Taleb, however in my opinion, is that he possesses that rare quality: he is an independent thinker. In fact, I view the book as having two underlying themes. One, it is a sort of a corny love letter to the massively underutilized science of statistics. I mean, the statistics discussed in the book are surprisingly basic but he reminds us that our everyday common sense doesn't really make sense. Two, it is an inspiring update of an ancient, heroic idea: that there is value to a thoughtful-even stoic-detachment in a world filled with noise and distraction.
The big ideas are simple. The usefulness of the book is that he shows you how we generally do not behave as if the simple ideas are true. The biggest idea is survivorship bias. It explains why my book reviews tend to be positive. I generally do not post a review unless I've read the entire book, and I tend to quit books that I don't like. So, my reviews are based on a sample that is infected by survivorship bias. I won't go into the other ideas (i.e., the problem of induction and "our genetic unfitness in the world") except to say that (i) the induction issue is arguably an extension of survivorship bias, so you may feel déjà vu here and (ii) the last section on the "human aspect of uncertainty" is the weakest section.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Irritating, Amusing, Arrogant, Brilliant June 16 2004
By A Customer
Taleb is the ideal independent (if IRREVERENT) thinker who deliver the news few want to hear (see the amusing prevalence of obsessive detractors).
His point is simple:
1) He uses logical thought experiments to show that in a random environment Warren Buffets are almost unavoidable to produce JUST BY LUCK --of course misunderstood that Warren Buffet has been lucky (the subtelty is not difficult to get).
2) If you have done poorly in life he can convince you that it may not be your fault (therapy)
3) If you have done very well in life and do not introspect you will be angry at him (he takes away from you your self-importance). The explanation are the attribution &overconfidence heuristics: people are motivated by a lack of understanding of the odds. They believe that their successes were explainavble & their failures were random. Go tell a gambler that he does not have the odds: he will be angry at you.
All that is wrapped in his idiosyncratic style. I have to say that I find his both charming and extemely arrogant. There is a deep philosophical point but it is too difficult for this.
HE did not tame his arrogance for this second edition
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fooled By Nerdiness? March 21 2004
This is a good book; although not a great one. It is, though, a "must read" for anyone involved in the business of convincing others (and indeed themselves) of facts based on statistical "evidence".
Taleb is clearly a gifted thinker but I, as some other readers, couldn't help feeling annoyed by him before I reached the middle of the book. The last time I felt this uncomfortable was reading Michael Moore's last diatribe. Not that I disagreed wholeheartedly with either of the writers' polemic; just that I felt the arguments were so heavily soaked in personal anger as to reduce the rational arguments to a one-sided shouting match.
Taleb's clear failure to communicate to his colleagues and bosses says as much about Taleb's communication skills as it does of his acquaintances' foolishness.
Sadly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Taleb is not without foolishness himself in some of his spurious arguments (used to back up perfectly rational concepts). When he claims that if someone had invested 1 million dollars in the US stock market in the 1920's he would now effectively own the whole of the listed market we know he's not quite serious. Even assuming that the rest of the investors would sit quietly on the sidelines for 80 years, try finding someone in the 1920's with a million bucks to speculate!
In terms of the foolishness of using past performance and past experiences to predict the future what other tool do we have?
My understanding of the "Bigger Fool Theory of Investing" is that fundamentals are irrelevant to the future returns of an investment. While analysts may look at P/E ratios and capitalized values of companies and claim that the stock is fundamentally over-valued, what of a Cezanne?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
As a professional options trader and familiar with Taleb's "Dynamic Options Hedging", I expected a very professional book with interesting insights into the human and mathematical aspects of probability and randomness.
And while the book does provide some of that, the valuable information is embedded in writing that is overly self-centered if not egomaniacal.
I'd like to point out that I REALLY wanted to love this book. But I didn't.
Taleb writes about interesting ways in which people do not understand randomness but he does it in a way which is unnecessarily insulting and condescending.
Even worse, I find him hypocritical. He spends a lot of energy talking about the value of being able to change one's mind, as well as the value of large sample sizes in probability-based decision making. But then he describes how far out of his way he goes to avoid information (which might cause him to change his mind or which would increase his sample size.) Further he implies that anyone who takes in certain information, like almost any form of news broadcast, must be an idiot and lives in a world of self-delusion.
Taleb writes like a smart but anti-social and holier-than-thou trader. He writes some very useful stuff about randomness and its misapplication in modern thinking. But then he goes on psychological tangents which are nothing more than trying (and failing) to find a mathematical basis on which to defend his personality foibles (flaws?).
He over-generalizes about trading in a style which he does not employ, i.e. selling premium or making bets based on past occurrences. He writes as if his way is the only way that makes sense, and implies that in the long run it is only because of randomness that anyone who does not trade the same way he does could be successful.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars "To figure out how something works, first figure out how to break it."
No one knows this reality better than the author of this quote, Nassim Taleb. Sadly the media overlooked this great work by Mr. Read more
Published 26 days ago by James DiCenzo
4.0 out of 5 stars Be Not (too) Fooled by Life
In summer, I sail. It get's me away from trading. And one of life's most looked forward to pleasures is a good book in a quiet anchorage. Alas often about trading but, never mind. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Sailor Dunc
5.0 out of 5 stars Fooled by Not Knowing
Mr. Taleb has an uncanny insight. I believe it was Winston Churchill who stated "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it". Read more
Published 16 months ago by Michael J. Dube
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining
The book is very entertaining. The author is a storyteller who makes some excellent observations about financial life and the futility of trying to look for patterns amongst the... Read more
Published 18 months ago by NeroTulip1961
2.0 out of 5 stars times Rambling and Disjointed
Working in the financial field I purchased this book at the recommendation of a very sophisticated client. Read more
Published on Sept. 3 2011 by RDP
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
This book is a real page turner. It incorporates a lot of research from many fields of study and points out a lot of logical fallacies among 'so called' experts in said fields. Read more
Published on Aug. 15 2010 by C. Kinchen
5.0 out of 5 stars A good reminder of the role of randomness in the markets
I consider myself a skeptic, as does author Taleb, so it is not surprising that Taleb's skeptical viewpoint resonated so well with me. Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2010 by Peter Mosier
1.0 out of 5 stars A Boring Waste of Time
Based on the positive reviews I had high hopes for this book. Unfortunately it was one of the most boring and annoying books I have ever read. Read more
Published on April 3 2009 by Marc
4.0 out of 5 stars Fallible ruminations
On a first reading, Fooled by Randomness presents itself as a wise, deep and disjointed introduction to Futility Theory.
Published on Aug. 23 2008 by Richard Lubbock
3.0 out of 5 stars Abstract, but thought-provoking
Taleb's Fooled by Randomness is an interesting alternative to the large majority of financial literature. Read more
Published on March 20 2008 by B. Piché
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