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The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable [Paperback]

Nassim Nicholas Taleb
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By A. Volk #1 REVIEWER #1 HALL OF FAME
Format:Paperback
Taleb's book is certainly one of the most interesting books I've read in a while. In it he argues a very simple point- many things in life happen on exponential scales, and because huge events on those probability distributions are also very rare, we're ill-equipped to understand or deal with them. That's really the central point of this book and he does a very good job presenting a very forceful argument for its adoption. Taleb focuses frequently on economics and business as areas that lack such knowledge. Rightly so. For years, I could not believe that an academic discipline could even exist when it was founded on the argument that human behavior was rational. It took a psychologist to teach them it wasn't (versus them reading a psychology article or two). Clearly, we have ample evidence from all financial walks of life that markets are all but unpredictable. Financial "experts" are generally just lucky. Throw 100,000 people into business and sheer dumb luck will ensure that some will achieve regular success. Taleb says that's all well and good, but not if we start to believe that it's skill and prediction that makes the difference. Because we get fooled into thinking we can predict the future, and then 2007/8 comes along and smacks the financial world into near-oblivion.

Taleb discusses when and where Black Swans (unknown, unlikely, but powerful events) are likely to occur and what we should do about them. If they are expected to be positive (e.g., scientific discoveries) then we should do things to maximize our exposure to them (i.e., have diverse and open research groups). If they are negative, we should do things to guard ourselves against them (e.g., purchase insurance, temper average predictions, etc.).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read Aug. 15 2010
Format:Paperback
This is a great book to read as it helps expand the context in which you view historical events and market movements. This book is not designed to show you the ins and outs of the market. I beleive this book is helpful in looking at your portfolio critically and to plan for events that may not fall within the parameters of your model. This is not a book that requires a PhD to read and find relevent, just a healthy interest in self development and education of ones flaws. An open mind is required when reading a book such as this that forces one to question the very fabric of what they deem to be reality.
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39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Do you agree that being hit with a tsunami has a totally different effect from a normal high tide? If so, you'll be glad that Professor Taleb has decided to point out that all tsunamis (low probability, high impact events) need special attention, even if they occur infrequently. His advice: Minimize exposure to large potentially harmful events while taking maximum exposure to large potentially helpful events.

I was particularly thrilled to see that Professor Taleb points out the foolishness of economists in preparing theories without checking the data to see if the theories work in practice . . . the greater foolishness of the Nobel committee granting prizes for such work . . . and the greatest foolishness of relying on the advice of such economists.

Why all the fuss? Many phenomena display high predictability and the differences from the average usually don't make all that much difference to you and me (that quality is captured by a statistical display called a bell curve where most cases cluster near the average and vary symmetrically from the average). But in some cases, there are rare events that change the reality so strongly (like a tsunami can do on the negative side or a selection as an Oprah book of the month can do on the positive side) that it would be the height of foolishness to ignore the possibilities.

When it comes to assets, wealth, book sales, athlete pay, and lots of other places where there is lots of competition, there are geometric rewards for a few while the mass do poorly. These are long-tail events (the way statisticians talk about lots of variation from the norm). But almost all human decision making assumes that there is little variation from the norm.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not my kind of book July 30 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book is very uneven. There are some very interesting sections, but unfortunately even more sections are highly repetitive, verbose, and unrelated to what the author is presumably trying to say. Instead of several hundred pages that largely repeat the same message over and over, the interesting (even though somewhat controversial) substance could be more usefully communicated in about one tenth of the current length.

I am also disturbed by (occasionally personal) attacks on people who don't share the author's opinions, name dropping (which the author criticizes in others), by inaccuracies (in my view even mistakes), and ridiculous statements, probably exaggerations intended to emphasize a point. I am uncomfortable with the fact that although the book promises wide applicability of the central ideas (and I agree with that) it much too often slips into illustrating and justifying the points on examples of financial markets and achieving personal wealth.

In summary, I enjoyed the interesting points that the author makes, but the style and orientation of the book don't agree with me.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Interesting perspective on the human mind
Published 29 days ago by Dina T
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond happy!
Great book, brand new, saved lots of money!
Published 2 months ago by Bryce
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fun to read
Published 2 months ago by Farid Shamji
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind changing book
Great insight on human and social behavior regarding risk. A support of the intuitive and empiricall approach over te pseudo certainty of some science, math and financial... Read more
Published 9 months ago by ALEXANDRE RENAUD
5.0 out of 5 stars This book teaches an Important life lesson
For anyone who feels that he can predict the future, this will completely disabuse him of it. The message is important for any active investor.
Published 13 months ago by Peter James Perry
1.0 out of 5 stars Verbose and Dull
Too much philosophical mumbo jumbo. Will put you to sleep. Look for more skillful authors who can carry a story. Distinct lack of any useful finance content.
Published 13 months ago by Paul Dickin
1.0 out of 5 stars Arrogant
I have tried to read this a few times but have given up each time. The theme of the book is interesting, but the author's arrogance comes across so strongly that I just could not... Read more
Published 17 months ago by ackman
4.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Perspective
Taleb`s main idea, is that we do not live in a linear world. Many people prefer to believe, that we do live in a linear world. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Patrick Sullivan
4.0 out of 5 stars Prediction is Uncertain - Even Behavioral Consistency
Imagine you are a turkey being fed comfortably on one of those mass production turkey farms. You may well assume that the good food, good company, and pleasant surroundings will go... Read more
Published 21 months ago by John M. Ford
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing
This is by far the best book I have even read, extremely well written.This book is a black swan, few books like this come out.
Published on Aug. 1 2012 by md
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