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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

Critic Reviews

"[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 Ratings


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  • Overall

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.

46 of 46 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Douglas
  • New York, NY, USA
  • 02-28-08


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.

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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.


32 of 34 people found this review helpful

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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.

20 of 21 people found this review helpful

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  • Kenneth
  • LEESBURG, VA, United States
  • 03-16-09

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.

35 of 38 people found this review helpful

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  • Gary
  • Las Cruces, NM, United States
  • 10-22-13

Even better today (2013)

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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael
  • Walnut Creek, CA, United States
  • 09-18-13

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.

62 of 73 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Enlightening & Engaging

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.

38 of 46 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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.

49 of 60 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Peter
  • Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • 01-22-09

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.

32 of 39 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
  • Peter
  • 12-05-08

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.

22 of 23 people found this review helpful

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  • Keith
  • 12-23-12

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.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Asif
  • 05-25-17

Just a bloke who reads a lot and has too much money and time on his hands

Long-winded, Patronising and self-satisfied review of the biases exhibited in decision making. Choice of narrator was perfect as it seemed to accentuate the utter pompousness of this book.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Colin
  • 07-10-14

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • lousouthend
  • 06-22-15

highly entertaining moderately informative

Nietzschean high tone sneer alternating nicely with carefully constructed argument. Sound if somewhat over worked presentation of the problem of induction. Fascinating extension from this to normative conclusions that are appealingly straightforward. Good to see some old favourites getting coverage but I dont think Mandelbrot, Popper and Poincarre are as hard done by as he seems to suggest. I'll be thinking about some his ideas for quite a while.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Flavia A. Popescu
  • 01-11-18

it come as close to enlightenment. a must read!

it come as close to enlightenment. a must read for every professional in finance, investments and public government.

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  • A. Nassar
  • 12-22-17

Great book. Shame the voice

Well I loved the book. I just couldn’t get on with the voice. The voice read in clear English. But too clear. Every word is emphasised and most if not all sentences were short. It was like it was read by an early teen.
Tonal emphasis seemed to be in the wrong places & any foreign name was butchered in an attempt at pronouncing them properly.
Chandler may be suitable for voicing novels not a philosophy book.

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  • Peter Lawless
  • 07-08-17

Fertiliser for those who wish to grow

This masterpiece is proof that black swans can shake the very foundation of what we believe is normal. If this book were to be introduced to national curricular, I believe mankind could finally mature towards our potential.

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  • foufoutos
  • 04-23-17

A book that changes our perspective in many issues

This book does great on changing the way we view things and our approach in taking decisions. However the audio format is a bit difficult to follow for such a complex subject.

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  • C. Rockne-meyer
  • 08-30-15

Engaging story format making subject come alive

Robust and expertly written. Naseem's position as philosopher and practitioner provides a practical viewpoint for dealing with a difficult but necessary subject.

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  • Cosmin Florescu
  • 12-03-17

Pointless illogical and contradictory

The book is essentially the author ranting about how smart he is and how stupid experts in their respective fields are. He spends quite a few words letting you know exactly how smart he is.

He rails against current risk mitigation models incessantly by correctly identifying that they don't work particularly in regard to extreme events. He fails to identify what would happen if these models were discarded and falls for a logical trap that he rants against ie ignoring the information you aren't aware of.

I feel the entire book be summarised by the fact that unexpected stuff happens and this can have profound effects on the world. We can't model for it and people who try to predict the future particularly in finance are kidding themselves.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-21-17

Pragmatic concept deluvered in an arrogant message

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

Over worded, antagonistic and arrogant approach to explaining the concept. Had to sort through a lot of hot air to home in on the main points of the theory.

Would you be willing to try another book from Nassim Nicholas Taleb? Why or why not?

In a short book... Maybe. But not a full length like this

Have you listened to any of David Chandler’s other performances? How does this one compare?


Could you see The Black Swan being made into a movie or a TV series? Who would the stars be?


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  • Cam Liston
  • 02-24-16

Great Concept and Very Important for the Investor

Would you listen to The Black Swan again? Why?

No. Although I enjoyed the content Taleb manages to waffle on. I think he could've got his point across in about 1/4 the time.

Any additional comments?

Taleb comers across as arrogant and infinitely unlikable but knowledge of the 'The Black Swan' concept is a MUST for all investors. I also suggest further research on the barbell investment theory.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful