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The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable | [Nassim Nicholas Taleb]

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Maverick thinker Nassim Nicholas Taleb had an illustrious career on Wall Street before turning his focus to his black swan theory. Not all swans are white, and not all events, no matter what the experts think, are predictable. Taleb shows that black swans, like 9/11, cannot be foreseen and have an immeasurable impact on the world.
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Publisher's Summary

Maverick thinker Nassim Nicholas Taleb had an illustrious career on Wall Street before turning his focus to his black swan theory. Not all swans are white, and not all events, no matter what the experts think, are predictable. Taleb shows that black swans, like 9/11, cannot be foreseen and have an immeasurable impact on the world.

©2007 Nassim Nicholas Taleb; (P)2007 Recorded Books, LLC

What the Critics Say

"[Taleb] administers a severe thrashing to MBA- and Nobel Prize-credentialed experts who make their living from economic forecasting." (Booklist)
"The hubris of predictions - and our perpetual surprise when the not-predicted happens - are themes of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's engaging new book....It concerns the occurrence of the improbable, the power of rare events and the author's lament that 'in spite of the empirical record we continue to project into the future as if we were good at it.'" (The New York Times)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Edmund Santa Rosa, CA, United States 12-16-11
    Edmund Santa Rosa, CA, United States 12-16-11
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    9
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    "Great book, performance can be toe-curling"

    A fabulous book that provocatively challenges the status quo. The bombast renders it all the more enjoyable for me.

    However, it is very nearly ruined by the narrator's treatment of foreign names or words. Before each, Chandler pauses, winding himself up for Olympian feats of pronunciation—which he then almost invariably mangles. His excessive flourish makes these names and phrases stand out in an ostentatious way, all the more awkward because of the mispronunciation. This does Taleb a disservice. Being cosmopolitan, I imagine he intended rather more of a natural tone for names and authors he holds familiar and dear.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    andrew Bountiful, UT, United States 11-25-11
    andrew Bountiful, UT, United States 11-25-11
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    "A Lot of Smart Things Said by a Very Smug Man"

    The trouble I decided at some point past midway, is that while providing a good, nuanced performance as narrator, Chandler was making me dislike Taleb. He came off as rather arrogant, self-important, mean. I do not think that is who Taleb is, nor do I think that is the only way to take his book. Had I read the book myself, my inner voice would have been much more modest, less assertive, a man of curiosity rather than certainty. This is a book after all about being uncertain, asking questions, looking for deeper meanings and answers. Not knowing anything. But the Taleb given us here hits us over the head, insults, sneers, comes off not as an agnostic of data and economics but a counter-priest. Still, the reading is vibrant, consistent, passionate. I do not doubt the narrator put a lot of effort and thought into how he would perform the work. It is much preferable to a monotone. Every Shakespeare part can be played many ways, so I suppose the same is true of reading audio books. The book itself is certainly intelligent, entertaining, inciteful and eclectic. Some of these ideas seemed rather obvious to me, but perhaps not to most, as people do invest heavily in the stock market and wind up crashing with the market. I loved the thought experiments, some of the anecdotes. I will read more Taleb some day, I believe. This is not a how-to invest book though. At the end he offers a few suggestions about how to invest and how he does, but that is not the heart of the book. Nor is this the book I expected. From the back cover it makes one anticipate that the book will be about why not to over-react to highly-improbably events- such as 9/11. Which was an incredibly complicated plot that probably could not happen again. Yet we prepare for new terrorist strikes as if they will do just what they did before. 9/11 happens, as Taleb says, because it seemed impossible. If they had tried something anyone could think would work, it would not have worked. So I expected the heart of the book to tell us; we don't know what is coming, we can't stop it, so why waste our money trying? Why obsess? When what we will cover will be everything that cannot possibly happen, and it would be counter-productive to try to cover every single possible unlikely scenario. But it is really the precise opposite: he tells us how and why we should work and plan to neutralize disasters, though we do not know when or what they will come as. That the good work of century can be undone in a day.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    "Reader" Los Angeles, CA USA 11-13-11
    "Reader" Los Angeles, CA USA 11-13-11 Member Since 2014
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    "Boring beyond belief! DON'T WASTE YOUR CREDIT!"

    Blah, blah, blah. Couldn't even make it past chapter 5 and decided enough was enough. I look for long books (to get a lot of bang for my credit) with a high star rating and I listen to LOTS of books. This had both, but I have NO idea what people found compelling about this monotonous book. Glad the author went to one of the best business schools in the world. Too bad Wharton doesn't teach how to write an interesting book. The reader was bland as well, but in all fairness it may have been the subject matter. Don't waste your credit -- I wish I could have mine back. After listening to well over 500 books in the past 4 years at least this is one of a handful I didn't make it through. Still want my credit back! Good luck if you spend a credit.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Valerie Loveland, CO, United States 10-25-11
    Valerie Loveland, CO, United States 10-25-11
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    "Boastful and egotistical, painful to listen to"

    I couldn't even finish this book. I got so tired of hearing the author tell about how great he was that I decided it wasn't worth the effort to try to distill the message out of his narrative. He's rich enough that he doesn't care what anybody thinks about his book. That only makes him worse. He's rich AND an !%$%$.

    I think I'll try to find another economist who can explain the black swan principle to me without first trying to convince me that he's God's best-kept secret.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CM ARNDT 10-25-11
    CM ARNDT 10-25-11 Member Since 2009
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    20
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    "Interesting if you can get past the arrogance"

    I am a doctoral student in Psychology, so I am steeped in statistics right now and thought this book might serve as an antidote for some of my courses! The author is obvoiusly knowledgeable, and some of the connections to ancient philosophers are of interest. But, he clearly has an axe to grind. He talks a lot about his ethnicity and his high-powered connections, and he mentions that he refuses to wear a tie except to funerals. Much of the book is more of a personal essay which is just not what I expected.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kurt 06-16-11
    Kurt 06-16-11 Member Since 2014

    Avid procrastinator...Thanks audible.

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    "What you don't know..."

    Despite the somewhat jaded pretentiousness of Nassim and his highly intellectualized and name-dropping writing style, he makes excellent and eloquent observations which shatter the illusions regarding the extent of human knowledge as well man's ability to predict. I recommend this book to any CEO who outsources research to forecast future events, as he will be required to know what went awry when a black swan nullifies any plans. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this book to someone in the financial sales-service industry as it has the potential to negatively impact the pitch spinning narrative sold to clients. In the end, as Nassim says "We don't know, what we-don't-know", but after listening, " The Black Swan" I feel more illuminated to the extent of those things which are truly unknowable and ironically have made me paranoid enough to plan accordingly.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Oded New York, New York, United States 05-05-11
    Oded New York, New York, United States 05-05-11
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    "Do Not Touch - unless you must"

    for a University essay or something.
    Very slow, the point is understood after chapter one, and one could deliver the message in half the time.

    On the up side, I had a couple of very good naps with this one..

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Thomas Chapel Hill, NC, United States 04-13-11
    Thomas Chapel Hill, NC, United States 04-13-11 Member Since 2013
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    "what a shame"

    The idea is great, and parts of the book are fascinating and provoking; hwoever, this is unfortunately ruined by the constance deluge of self-congratulation, attempts at self-depracating humor which just show additional hubris, and just plain long sections which say virtually nothing. Its tiring hearing about the author's quips to "never teach from boring economic books written by nobel laureates", many of whom he disagrees with and of course have nothing of substance to say to counter his arguments, since he is so much brighter than any of them. Nothing like the summary, in which he says his response to black swans is to be worried about things which seem sure, while not worrying about high risk decisions, because you already know they are high risk. But here is the killer, the whole point of black swans is they are totally unpredictable. If they are predictable, they are no longer black swans.

    This for me was just painful to listen to. It's a shame, because the basic concept is fascinating and thought provoking and potentially alters the way you think about things. unfortunately there is about 2 hours of interesting material in here, and the rest is just nauseating.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    greg SCHILLER PARK, ILLINOIS, United States 04-08-11
    greg SCHILLER PARK, ILLINOIS, United States 04-08-11 Member Since 2010
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    "Big vocabluary,Taleb is full of it !!"

    If you want to listen to some big vocabulary , and find out that you can't predict anything and that there is no sense in planning something than listen to this book if not, save yourself some time and listen to “Outliers “ by Maxwell

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    03-25-11
    03-25-11 Member Since 2015
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    4
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    "Brilliant, but so utterly arrogant in delivery."

    I don't know where they found the narrator of the book, he must be a friend of Taleb, because the way he narrates it's as if he's the embodiment of Taleb himself only 50% more douchey. I kept imagining him on top of a horse dressed as a foppish dandy.

    I enjoyed the message and his thesis as I am an engineer and we use bell curves (i.e. Six Sigma) to show as if we can explain randomness in data and prove that we fixed a problem. While it is useful in explaining if something was improved, but there are so many other tricks that you can play that even if you did nothing, you could still show that you improved a process. I am guilty of using these little tricks like adjusting my standard deviation by moving the data set around, but what a crock the whole thing is. It just gives managers something to masturbate to.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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