Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
In this book, Taleb launches a gleeful assault against statistical thinking and forecasting. The title refers to the discovery of black swans in Australia, an event which fell outside the bounds of what past experience had led people to expect, since swans everywhere else were white. According to Taleb, many, if not most, important occurrences in human history have been black swan events. Examples he gives include the First World War (which no one expected to grind on for four years at the cost of millions of lives), 9/11, the rise of the Internet, and the runaway success of JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. Yet, he observes, the human mind has a dangerous tendency to construct narratives in hindsight, which ???explain??? away chance and the unexpected, creating a false sense of predictability. Like a turkey before Thanksgiving, which is lulled into thinking that a history of being well-fed and well-treated is indicative of things to come, we not only don???t know what???s around the corner, but we forget all the previous times when we didn???t know.
It???s a thesis that Taleb, a former financial trader who grew up in war-torn Lebanon, seems to have had many occasions to ponder. To explore the problem of inductive reasoning, he divides the world into ???Mediocristan??? and ???Extremistan???. In the former, events conform to a statistical bell curve, and outliers have little effect on the whole (as with human height). There may be uncertainty, but it can be accounted for. In the latter, the bell curve model breaks down and outliers have a huge effect (as with human wealth) -- which takes us into a realm better understood through chaos theory and fractals. Taleb spends most of the book attacking the various sciences that (in his mind) make the mistake of applying clean Mediocristan laboratory models to unpredictable Extremistan. Academics, economists, and social scientists receive special scorn.
There's no question that The Black Swan's central idea is a provocative one, since it inverts the commonplace question of what human knowledge can tell us, and focuses instead on what it can't. As it did for me, it may get you to think.
However, once you get past the brilliance of that switch in thinking, the actual content is a little thin. For one thing, the author???s egotistical personality is a bit of a distraction from his subject matter, as he goes out of his way to call attention to his own success and take cheap shots at rivals (and, inexplicably, the French). For another, there are clearly circumstances in which those in the know managed to predict a happening well in advance. For example, plenty of savvy people anticipated the eventual popularity of the Internet, back when it was just a text-based plaything of geeks -- it just took home computing and the data infrastructure a couple decades to catch up with that vision. Taleb could have gone into more depth on how to tell the difference between reasonable predictions and those too easily derailed by black swans.
In sum, probably not the most substantial book on unpredictability, but one that does put the issue into a good meme.
This book is written by a true egotist, but his points are valid and interesting--if you're capable of overlooking his arrogance. That being said, I couldn't get through more than 1.5 hours of this audiobook. I had to trash it from my ipod and read the book outright (I like to read while I listen). The narration is forced and actually alters a lot of the writers points. He emphasizes the wrong scientific words in sentences, almost constantly. As a physicist this drove me insane and I couldn't stand listening to it. I wouldn't recommend this audiobook. I disliked the narrators voice and he clearly didn't understand the writers intention, which is the worst of follies for an audiobook.
Some interesting ideas but the author is so pompous and arrogant that it required me great effort to listen to it to the end hoping it would all make sense. A very unpleasant person.
I read through this book based on hearing the author speak on the radio and I was impressed. I think his central point about how life is considerably more uncertain than we like to think is an important and valuable one. Yes, it's a long book, but I think that the more the subject gets boiled down into smaller and smaller sound-bites, the less effect it is likely to have. And I think the warning here for us is a valuable one.
To the many reviews here who wanted to boil the book down to one sentence: did you even read it? Half of the book is about how when we simplify things we throw out important parts of them, leaving behind dangerously simplified concepts. And after reading the whole book, you THEN want to boil it down to "shit happens?" Frankly, I'm glad that I didn't heed those reviews, then I read them, or I would be lesser for it.
I have over 500 books in my library
This is one of the worst books i have ever listened to. Also IF you are implying that all blondes are prostitutes I hope to catch you on side of the road one day because I can kick your teeth in !!!! OHH yes and Yogi Bera is a wise old chap duuhhh. I hope nobody waste their hard earned money on this book
The premise of the book is interesting in the fact that the author simply points out that things are unpredictable. The problem is the author, spends soo much time promoting himself and quoting other books, it gets old very fast!!! The author wants to do is quote French phases!!! PASS ON THIS ONE!
It seems every time (and there were many) the narrator came across a foreign name in the reading, there would be a slight pause while he loaded up what strong foreign accent was needed, and then he said the person's name in that language (at a slightly slower pace, and a bit louder) before switching back to English and moving along.
Drove me crazy, and each time took me out of the flow of following along with the audio to starkly remind me that I was listening to an audio book.
At the very end of the book a different speaker gives some thanks for buying the book. He mentioned a couple foreign names as well, but did so much more seamlessly, and appropriately.
So, if you are planning on purchasing the audio book, I recommend you listen to the sample first. The narrator probably did a good job of reflecting the author's pretentious style.
As for the book itself, just two stars and a wish I'd used my credit for something else. (Probably the lowest I've rated a book that I finished.)
The title of this review and the other negative reviewers said it all. I like pop-economic-sociology books very much - especially in audible form, but this one is a true loser. Most of his "insights" are sophmoric at best and the whole tone is "look at me, I'm smarter, more cultured, and more philosophically even minded than everyone else." At first I thought I was getting something out of it, if only a set of good arguments against his premises, but after awhile decided that most of the premises weren't even worth arguing with - too much like one of those 3 a.m. discussions you had after a lot of beer back in your college days.
Aspiring Children's Book Writer
No observation of white swans can tell you that black swans do not exist. These arguments will not sound that revolutionary if you've taken a survey philosophy class. What makes Taleb's work interesting is that he applies these ideas to economics, statistics, and other real world situations.
Now, although I'm all for skepticism, I cannot say that I like this book primarily because I find the author dripping with hubris. Nearly all the characters and authors that Mr. Taleb bothers to mention are there to be belittled. Though Mr. Taleb warns the reader against being too full of oneself, he name-drops to the point of impeding his argument. Also, his writing is rather weak. Instead of using large examples that can serve in several situations, he makes so many examples that it is hard to concentrate on the point of the example, and instead of stating his argument first, he'll provide an example without really connecting things to the main idea. In addition, Taleb mentions concrete details which in no way serve to add to his examples. His writing becomes stronger toward the end, but honestly, I found Malcolm Gladwell's article entitled Blowing Up describing Mr. Taleb, which you can read at Gladwell's website, as a better description of Taleb's methods.
I must agree with David from NY who on Oct 13th said that he "found this book to be thuddingly dull and obtuse." The author's glorified self image seeped through the skin of this book like a bad smell. It so distracted me that I aborted my listen very early in the text. I also found that he replayed the central theme of the book over and over, like a scratched record. All-in, I would NOT recommend this to anyone. I could communicate the central tenets of the text in less than 5 minutes. As such, it makes the 14 hours & 20 minutes of the full unabridged work seem like torture.