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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

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (1936 )
5 star
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4.0 (819 )
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4.0 (822 )
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2 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Kenneth LEESBURG, VA, United States 03-16-09
    Kenneth LEESBURG, VA, United States 03-16-09 Member Since 2005

    Old & fat, but strong; American, Chinese, & Indian (sort of); Ph.D. in C.S.; strategy, economics & stability theory; trees & machining.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    335
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    "Brilliant, Obnoxious, Narcissistic, Brilliant"

    The book assumes that you sort of know that the normal distribution is grossly overused in all kinds of science and pseudo-science. It explains in very easy to understand terms why this leads to a host of misunderstandings about the way the world really works. Examples include the recent sub-prime problems.

    At some level this is something that serious students of mathematics have understood for a long time, but few are able to explain it this well and this systematically.

    The style of the book will strike many who prefer more traditional prose as juvenile and narcissistic. But the brilliance of the book tends to overcome these annoyances.

    18 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul Mullen Waukesha, WI 03-22-08
    Paul Mullen Waukesha, WI 03-22-08 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
    184
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    37
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    "A fun Diatribe Against Silly Thinking"

    OK, you'll get the basic point of this book about 1/3 of the way through: The impact of the highly improbable is like to be much greater than the cumulative impact of the probable and predictable.

    But Taleb makes this so much fun to read/listen to that you'll find yourself drawn into example after example of the silly presumptions that lead us to live as though we can predict the world around us.

    The author is a little full of himself, but that's part of what makes it fun.

    You don't have to be a math/statistics techie to get the concepts in this book. It will reduce your dependence on precise prediction and give you a chance to live free of the tyranny of precision.

    Enjoy!

    17 of 17 people found this review helpful
  •  
    James Olathe, KS, United States 02-24-11
    James Olathe, KS, United States 02-24-11 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    62
    ratings
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    175
    23
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    "Forget This and read fooled by Randomness"

    There was one paragraph that was pretty good, when he described his barbell strategy. The rest was crap. Mindless ramblings of a man so in love with himself, that it is somewhat awkward to read.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Walnut Creek, CA, United States 09-18-13
    Michael Walnut Creek, CA, United States 09-18-13

    I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    9
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    Story
    "Black Swan Turkey Jerky"

    The author has one good point then rants rather incessantly about a wide variety of people and subjects.

    So you will not have to read this turkey, here is the meat;
    If you suspect the variance of something might be inconsistent, you can’t rely on history plus a Bell-type curve to predict outcomes or risks. That is it. Fourteen hours. It is said many times, many ways, but that is it. Now, this is a very good point. The bell-curve is massively abused, particularly in government and finance. So now, when you see a prospectus or government report prognosticating about risks or costs, ask yourself, is the variance of oil prices, or gold prices, or medical costs, or whatever it is about, really likely to be consistent? If not, disregard the prophecies. Good to remember! Nevertheless there are plenty of places, other than casinos, where using the Bell curve is safe and effective. The author does not say the normal curve should never be used, but one could get that misimpression from the author’s unremitting attacks.

    Unfortunately The Black Swan is also laced with assaults on multitudes. The attitude of the author is so pompous and pretentious and tinged with insecurity and even self-loathing that it is literally uncomfortable to listen to. I could go on and on, barely a page went by without something causing me to cringe, shake my head, or groan. I agree with the author’s main point and the narration was good, considering the problematic writing. There were just too many things wrong with this book to allow me to recommend it to anyone.

    17 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Douglas New York, NY, USA 02-28-08
    Douglas New York, NY, USA 02-28-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Interesting"

    I have mixed feelings about the book. It is very repetitive, and approaches its thesis from many angles. Yet, it is a very interesting subject matter.

    The reading of the book is good, although someone who is not familiar with the mathematics may have trouble following the tables read aloud in the final chapters.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12 Member Since 2005

    mostly nonfiction listener

    HELPFUL VOTES
    557
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    8
    Overall
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    "Forever Changed My Thinking"

    I think that Taleb is probably an S.O.B. and a nut....but his argument that the world (and our lives) is in reality ruled by unpredictable large-scale events (black swans) is intriguing and forcefully argued. Taleb's background is in quantitative trading...and while arrogant beyond belief his arguments seem hard to dismiss.

    13 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Keith Porter Pasadena, CA United States 11-09-07
    Keith Porter Pasadena, CA United States 11-09-07 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    4
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    "Poor style, limited novelty, two great phrases"

    In some ways Taleb's style is that of an angry overconfident doctoral student: arrogant, full of cutesy headings and overly broad contemputuous attacks on perceived fools, but often thin on defense of his thesis. It can be hard to see beyond the stylistic limitations to his argument's merits.

    Scholars familiar with the concept of epistemic uncertainty (the possible discrepancy between nature and our concept of it) may perceive that the black swan broadly overlaps the idea. Taleb's contribution, and what I like about the phrase "black swan" as opposed to epistemic uncertainty, may be his argument that in many domains of life the black swan swamps the mathematically familiar uncertainties which we sometimes call aleatoric.

    One chapter may make the frequently painful slog worthwhile: in the middle of the book Taleb introduces the ludic fallacy, by which he means the false idea that uncertainties in life are like uncertainties in casino games. In a casino, the rules are well established and the uncertainties readily quantified. Taleb convincingly argues that in many aspects of real life (even as he engagingly shows in the real financial life of a casino) the uncertainties that drive history are not the ones of which we are aware and plan for.

    It is for the phrase "black swan" and the idea of the ludic fallacy that I am glad to have read the book. Had Taleb had a better editor, or perhaps that he had listened to the editor he did have, I would have given the book another star.

    36 of 41 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Judd Bagley Utah 05-27-09
    Judd Bagley Utah 05-27-09 Member Since 2006

    Max Fisher of Rushmore Academy

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Worth it in the end...I think."

    I spent most of my time with this book cursing the author for his ego and inability to get to the point.

    Yet, I stuck with it until the end.

    That's because the story Taleb tells is fascinating, relevant, and probably worth the mediocre job he does telling it.

    And he really does do a mediocre job.

    I recommend this book, but also recommend looking for an abridged version first.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kirill Owings Mills, MD, USA 03-29-09
    Kirill Owings Mills, MD, USA 03-29-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
    ratings
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    3
    1
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    0
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    "A smart book for those interested in probability"

    I enjoyed listening to this book. First, it's well-written, so you do not have to struggle with either scientific language or feel like you're being talked to like a dummy. Second, the material presented in this book will help you rethink a lot that is going on around us. Sometimes, Mr. Taleb gets too passionate about his subject and goes into great lengths to explain a simple topic, but still he possesses a great knowledge. This book is a must-read for any starting (or experienced) investor! The ideas of Nicholas Taleb might save you a couple of bucks in the future.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Peter Vancouver, BC, Canada 01-22-09
    Peter Vancouver, BC, Canada 01-22-09 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    24
    ratings
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    10
    2
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    0
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    "OK, I get it!"

    A good book but the author could have shared the message in about half the time. Gets a little wordy and I found myself saying "I get it, move on" during the second half of the book.

    22 of 25 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 102 results PREVIOUS1211NEXT
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  • Peter
    Beulah, United Kingdom
    12/5/08
    Overall
    "A magazine article posing as a book"

    I had high hopes for this book. Unfortunately, it was way too long for the very simple message that the author tries to convey. The book is split into four sections - by the end of the first section it was a 5-star triumph, after the second section it had dropped to a passable but somewhat repetetive 4-star text, but by the end of the book it had collapsed to a teetering-on-3-star irritation. As a driving listener, by the time the books last paragraphs are being squeezed out, I was fighting the compulsion to drive into a hedge, just so the noise would stop.

    The reader also conveyed the impression that the author was intensely arrogant and self-satisfied, which put me off somewhat.

    18 of 18 people found this review helpful
  • Keith
    London, United Kingdom
    12/23/12
    Overall
    "Best left unread in Umberto Eco's library"

    The author recommends leaving many books unread in the library. This should probably be one of them. The style is arrogant, condescending with frequent personal attacks on those he disagrees with. His idea that extreme unpredictable events occur, are often of enormous significance, need to be considered and are routinely ignored is a point worth making and elaborating. The first part of the book explains this idea at a length that sometimes becomes tedious. He then goes on a tirade against use of statistics. But instead of explaining how stats are used badly he launches an attack on the tools themselves, particularly the Normal distribution, not its use but the tool itself as if it were evil incarnate. I thought that maybe he did understand something about the mathematics he was ranting against although he so often seemed to get it wrong but gradually changed my mind as his interpretations became more misleading. What underlies his apparent hatred for Carl Frederick Gauss is not clear but I gave up with any sympathy for his approach when he started attacking the Uncertainty Principle as not relevant because (he says) it is Gaussian. He litters the book with the names of famous people, many of them mathematicians, he appears to adore Benoit Mandelbrot and Henri Poincare but oddly enough not Rene Thom. I found the book quite objectionable not because I disagreed with it or because of its style but because it has so much disinformation; this is presumably intentional as the author tells us early on that information is nearly always bad for us. If there is an abridged version of the book, cut down to less than fifty pages it might be worth reading, otherwise give it a miss.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Colin
    Kew, United Kingdom
    7/10/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "I'm so clever"

    This is an interesting read if you can get past his bragging. You've probably heard of it and it does a pretty good job of demonstrating (a) the fierce power of the unexpected to trip up the unwary and (b) how much cleverer the author is than anyone else. Not necessarily in that order.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Niall
    Longniddry, East Lothian, United Kingdom
    7/25/09
    Overall
    "Another Peach"

    I re-listen to this book once every month or so. The author prides himself on his original thinking. This pride comes over as smugness, but that aside this is a very interesting take on the world we live in.
    Thoroughly enjoy this and highly recommend it.

    5 of 10 people found this review helpful
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