- Hardcover: 480 pages
- Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (April 17 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1400063515
- ISBN-13: 978-1400063512
- Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.6 x 24.1 cm
- Shipping Weight: 839 g
- Average Customer Review: 48 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #15,015 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Hardcover – Apr 17 2007
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In business and government, major money is spent on prediction. Uselessly, according to Taleb, who administers a severe thrashing to MBA- and Nobel Prize-credentialed experts who make their living from economic forecasting. A financial trader and current rebel with a cause, Taleb is mathematically oriented and alludes to statistical concepts that underlie models of prediction, while his expressive energy is expended on roller-coaster passages, bordering on gleeful diatribes, on why experts are wrong. They neglect Taleb's metaphor of "the black swan," whose discovery invalidated the theory that all swans are white. Taleb rides this manifestation of the unpredicted event into a range of phenomena, such as why a book becomes a best-seller or how an entrepreneur becomes a billionaire, taking pit stops with philosophers who have addressed the meaning of the unexpected and confounding. Taleb projects a strong presence here that will tempt outside-the-box thinkers into giving him a look. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Praise for Nassim Nicholas Taleb
“The most prophetic voice of all.”—GQ
Praise for The Black Swan
“[A book] that altered modern thinking.”—The Times (London)
“A masterpiece.”—Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired, author of The Long Tail
“Idiosyncratically brilliant.”—Niall Ferguson, Los Angeles Times
“The Black Swan changed my view of how the world works.”—Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate
“[Taleb writes] in a style that owes as much to Stephen Colbert as it does to Michel de Montaigne. . . . We eagerly romp with him through the follies of confirmation bias [and] narrative fallacy.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Hugely enjoyable—compelling . . . easy to dip into.”—Financial Times
“Engaging . . . The Black Swan has appealing cheek and admirable ambition.”—The New York Times Book Review
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That's why I took off a star.
Other than that, the book is really eye opening if you can be patient enough to read it. Easier to understand the chaos of the world after reading it. One of a kind.
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.
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.). There could be more depth here, and the additional chapters of this 2nd edition to add some of that. But if you're looking for a book with specific predictions about how to live your life or conduct your finances, this isn't it.
My biggest problem with this book is the relentless polemics and strong doses of arrogance. It's ironic in many cases. Taleb repeatedly bashes financial fields (especially economics) and then turns around and says one of his biggest sources of consolation against attacking academics is that he's made far more money than them. So which is it- knowledge is key or money is key? He also bashes the social sciences at every turn. I agree that many social "sciences" are in fact social arts (most economics being a great example). They are poor at predicting and fail to use the scientific methods. But many social sciences (e.g., psychology) as well as biology (he frequently mentions evolutionary psychology positively, but somehow misses this connection in his polemics) do indeed use rigorous scientific methods and their use of the bell curve is appropriate for their measures (e.g., personality). Black Swans are most common in large, complex structures such as weather, history, or economics. Also, any good scientist should know that we never know everything, that any theory can be toppled, and to expect the unexpected from research. Taleb also attacks tenured professors, but the system of tenure allows for the open research Taleb claims as necessary for detecting or even just thinking about Black Swans. His name-dropping, of both foes and friends, is annoying and detracts from his otherwise intellectual arguments.
Overall then, I think this is a fantastic book about how we think. It's very similar to Malcolm Gladwell's or Daniel Kahneman's works on why our minds are easily fooled, only the topic is larger and more elementary (the basic nature of probability and knowledge). It's not a simple book to read, but it is engaging as the ideas within are very powerful. Unfortunately, it is marred by a deeply aggressive, reactive, and polemic style of writing. Fortunately, in the additional 2nd edition chapters, he realizes that he can make much more headway by telling researchers and practitioners when their arguments/theories/models work (i.e., when the distribution is bell curved) versus when they need to realize they aren't in Kansas anymore (i.e., exponential-type distributions with Black Swans). That approach fits much better with the human psyche and is thus a more effective way of delivering one's message. And it's how I'll wrap up this review. Buy this book if you want to know what we don't know and why that really matters. Because surprisingly, what we don't know can sometimes be much more important than what we do know!
For better insights, look at Jim Collins' Great by Choice where he profiles businesses in volatile industries that have protected themselves and benefited from Black Swans. 3M, I think, would be a prime example of a company that is primed to benefit from highly unpredictable innovations. Taleb, on the other hand, tends to get lost in the weeds. In the end, he is more hedgehog than fox, knowing one big thing rather than many little things.
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