I decided to write a review after listening to the book twice and enjoying it greatly both times. I didn’t think readers were getting a fair representation of this book’s contents by just reading the previous reviews.
Perhaps this book doesn’t strike a cord with everybody. The concepts are presented intertwined with personal stories and often come across as strongly stated opinions. One will certainly appreciate the book much more if one has had his or her own fair share of struggles with the concepts of knowledge, our perception of truth, our biases in framing the truth, and ultimately the false sense of confidence that we often have as to why things are the way they are.
Unless you thought about, for example, why financial markets are ridden with extremes, or why beginners seem to be lucky, why intelligence does not seem to matter much, why some risk taking pays off, and you didn’t like the typical answers given to these questions, you probably won’t enjoy the book a whole lot.
No book can truthfully tell you how to make money. This one is no exception. The greatest benefit of this book, if it stays with you, is to make you conscious of how little you know about the reality, and how little statistics can be trusted. Hopefully, this in turn, will make you a better decision maker especially when stakes are high.
Taleb’s genius is to provide a single framework for understanding of many of our observations in mostly unrelated disciplines. He (or his narrator) may sound angry or condescending at times. Perhaps he shouldn’t, but most people would, if they subscribed to his school of thoughts and examined events around them as skeptical empiricists.
I found this book to be thuddingly dull and obtuse. I kept listening (I'm new to Audible) for the great thought to emerge to justify all the stultifying time I had spent listening so far. I gave up after Chapter 6. Had I the book on paper, I would have been able to skim it, see that there was nothing there and save myself the time.
The premise is that there are things that are unpredictable that in retrospect seem inevitable. Think 9/11. That past experince can't account for future events. But after hours of listening to Taleb telling us how much smarter he is than the rest of us -- without giving us a clue how to apply any of his "insights," I became convinced that there is no way to benefit from this book: If you learn how to figure things out and anticipate them, they won't be unpredictable anymore, will they? And since the premise of the book is .... Well, you get it.
How does a book like this one get on so many recommended lists? Must be a Black Swan.
It took me a couple of runs through this audio book to really understand the framework that Nassim was putting together. First, by dividing the everyday from the extreme, understanding how scalable vs non-scalable events might allow us to increase our encounter with the black swan event. Second, understanding how our own minds will distort or prevent us from being able to see black swans. The author provides guidance on how we might shift our internal belief paradigm so that we might become more conducive to black swan events and to stop trusting the common as it might be the one thing holding us back from making it to extremistan.
I found it more than ironic that the author's arguments against the mainstream's hubris were themselves dripping with hubris. Despite completely agreeing with the author, I found it hard to concentrate on his points and examples.
The second half is much better focusing on the real meat of the issue and offering more insight to the world today. More practical people will complain that he provides no strategy for using/avoiding Black Swans. He does provide advice for avoiding Black Swans - Expect Them. The rest is more like a Self-Help book. Be willing to take a risk and be wary of anything that is described as a "sure thing" or "completely safe".
BA English MA Political Science Political Independent Intellectually curious Critical reader
Herman Edwards said it perfectly..."That's why we play the game." I don't think we need a full length book to tell us that we cannot predict major catasrophic events. September 11, 2001 was a surprise, Hitler rolling into France wasn't...the world was ill prepared for both events.
The book really misses the most important point of catastrophic events...It's not how you prevent them, that is impossible, it's how you react to them.
This book is somewhat interesting, and if you have nothing else you are really burning to get with that soon to expire credit I would put this on the top five list of books to think about.
I almost gave up on this one until I found out I could increase the playback speed on my iphone and cut the listening time by a few hours...good move...it also made the annoying narrator sound less annoying.
There are a few interesting tidbits in the book, but it was anywhere from boring to painful to get to those points. Overall I would mirror the thoughts of the other reviewers. What was most annoying to me is that Taleb falls prey to the fallacies he blasts, most notably the narrative fallacy.
I would say 2.5 stars, but rounded that up to 3 because I did take a few things away from this listen.
I love learning about the universe and our place in it by listening to Audible.
The author says he's a mathematician philosopher trader and if you tend towards that mode of thinking as I do this book will forever change your world view.
The book was written a year before the financial crisis of 2008 and really predicts that kind of event completely. His bottom line is that most of what we model (all financial products, for example) does not follow a normal distribution and extreme events which lie outside of the model will happen much more frequently than the mathematics would predict.
He tells you up front that he's going to pick and choose philosophers, economist and mathematicians who agree with his thesis. He's up front about the fact that the only modern philosopher worth knowing is Karl Popper and he explains why.
I don't understand why other reviewers don't love this book as much as do. Perhaps, because they read it before 2008 and didn't get the benefit of hindsight like I have.
This book is written by an author who comes across as very self-satisfied and a jerk to boot. Not worth spending 14+ hours with his thoughts.
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.