©2007 Nassim Nicholas Taleb; (P)2007 Recorded Books, LLC
"[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)
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.
Old & fat, but strong; American, Chinese, & Indian (sort of); Ph.D. in C.S.; strategy, economics & stability theory; trees & machining.
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.
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.
mostly nonfiction listener
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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