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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: 12.9 x 2.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 299 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #548,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3.7 out of 5 stars

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A. Volk #1 REVIEWER#1 HALL OF FAME 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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3 of 3 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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39 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on Aug. 13 2007
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 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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