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Fooled By Randomness [Hardcover]

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

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Book Description

April 16 2004
Selected by and the Financial Times as one of the best business books of the year, Fooled by Randomness is an instant classic. It's uniqueness has drawn to it a wide following - from the New Yorker to the Pentagon. Already published in 14 languages, this new edition, expanded by over 80 pages, includes up-to-date advances from behavioral finance and cognitive science This book is about luck ? or more precisely how we perceive and deal with luck in life and business. It is already a landmark work and its title has entered our vocabulary. In its second edition, Fooled by Randomness is now a cornerstone for anyone interested in random outcomes. Set against the backdrop of the most conspicuous forum in which luck is mistaken for skill ? the world of trading ? Fooled by Randomness is a captivating insight into one of the least understood factors of all our lives. Writting in an entertaining and narrative style, the author succeeds in tackling three major intellectual issues: the problem of induction, the survivorship biases, and our genetic unfitness to the modern word. In this second edition, Taleb manages to use stories and anecdotes to illustrate our overestimation of causality and the heuristics that make us view the world as far more explainable than it actually is. 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.

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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
3.0 out of 5 stars Abstract, but thought-provoking March 20 2008
Taleb's Fooled by Randomness is an interesting alternative to the large majority of financial literature. In effect, its goal is to portray the significance and the use of rationality and irrationality while dealing with markets (or any other foreseeable discipline).

Generally speaking, this book is written in a concise and understandable style with several anecdotes facilitating the reading experience. Where most of the readers will experience difficulty, however, is in the comprehension of some of the concepts presented by Taleb, as they do not always relate to every day's routine.

Drawing from works in many subjects (including biology, psychology, probability and economics), Taleb attempts to show how the human being is thoroughly incapable of dealing with random events. He discusses diverse problems related to the prediction of the market's yield, including, most notably, the problem of induction (how can one believe that summarizing past history into a model is possible, thus reducing finance to a single equation?). Also, I have found this book to be applicable in a much broader context than security analysis and risk management.

Similar books in the same category include A Random Walk Down Wall Street, by B. Malkiel, Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, by P. Bernstein and Irrational Exuberance, by R. Shiller. Overall, this book seems to have been written for the author more that for anyone else, but it does contain interesting knowledge often forgotten by other authors. I was not disappointed by this book, but it has failed to exceed my expectations, thereby ranking it a ``good'' read.
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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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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 2 months 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 16 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 18 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 20 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
4.0 out of 5 stars A should read, but as an eye opener
I give it 4 stars because I thnk it is a good book for introducing some epistemology in everyday life, although I agree with everything Daniel Maniov says. Read more
Published on Sept. 11 2007 by Jacques Warren
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