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The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Paperback – 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Penguin (2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141034599
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141034591
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.7 x 3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 299 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #464,604 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A. Volk #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWER on Feb. 26 2013
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By C. Kinchen on 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Nijsse on Aug. 25 2011
Format: Hardcover
After reading the Black Swan I'm not really sure what just happened. At first I wasn't sure I was going to get through the whole thing. The prose is very different for a non-fiction-science-and-probability book. At least not what I was expecting. The book has small parts of memoir woven throughout, some of which seem to fit, others seem like filler, and others yet are probably over my head and just add to the confusion.

In the 3rd chapter Taleb tells a story about an obscure, unpublished novelist Yevgenia Krasnova and how the success of her novel was a highly improbable event'a Black Swan. Not having heard of this unique success story I put down my book and went to Amazon for more info. After a few minutes of unsuccessful searching in circles I kept reading only to find a footnote at the beginning of Chapter 3 telling me that Yevgenia is fictional!

This didn't sit well with me, especially because my internet search behaviour was predicted and footnoted on the very next page. I began to wonder what other sorts of liberties Taleb was going to take but I kept going because I didn't want to be the type of 'Sucker' Taleb talks about. (Yevgenia's character comes up again and I'm curious how purely fictional or perhaps partially autobiographical her character is.)

Taleb is clearly a very well read and studied man and is not shy about letting you know it. But through this self confidence (possibly arrogance) comes a very lively and passionate dissection of economics as a science and those in it's business, specifically market and economic theorists, traders, investment bankers, portfolio managers, etc.

It's great to read Taleb call out the Economics Nobel Prize committee. One section titled "More Horror" starts:

"Things got a lot worse in 1997.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Ivan Tomek on 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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