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Publisher's Summary

In a changing world, forecasts and numbers usually represent bogus quantification. Kay and King tell us how to think smarter.

Radical uncertainty changes the way we should think about decision-making. For over half a century economics has assumed that people behave rationally by optimizing among well-defined choices. Behavioral economics questioned how far people are rational, pointing to the cognitive biases that seem to describe actual behavior. 

Radical Uncertainty is a bold, paradigm-shifting book that takes us past standard and behavioral economics, completely shifting our understanding of the role economics can play in decision-making. We can never have the information required to optimize. But the failure to come to terms with this reality has led us to build our largest financial organizations, develop major policy decisions, and create business structures on shifting sands - the false belief that the numbers provided by economic models give us the answer. They don't. The best managers in the public and private sectors rely on narratives, not numbers.

©2020 John Kay; Mervyn King (P)2019 Hachette Audio UK

What listeners say about Radical Uncertainty

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

At 1:23:50: "we must expect ... a virus"

Of books I've read, this is closest to (the terrific) Against the Gods: The remarkable Story of Risk, by Peter L. Bernstein.
It is about reckoning with uncertainty in all areas of life: measuring, modeling, guessing, betting, deciding, and committing.

This (well-timed) work is not as graceful, lyrical, or punchy as Nassim Taleb's best. But it is more disciplined and thorough. It is an education in one book, and takes pains to go over the major thinkers up to now, pretty systematically. Taleb by comparison wilfully flashes past things he assumes the reader knows, and goes whither he will. This book makes frequent reference to the "black swan" idea (and credits Taleb). But this book is more English and English school-like in tone and style, whereas Taleb is more Mediterranean, near-eastern, and ancient-epic. This one takes its time, colorfully enough, to see that you have a deep and wide background in its subject. It wanders around more capaciously, slipping into various stories of things unexpected. At moments it can seem a bit slack in the pacing. What it does for me is help me build my tool kit for (I'm already far down this path) a broad re-callibration of how I view and process and decide in my world. I see it as an antidote to the shared hallucination we (in USA) might now be awakening from -- the (relative) apparent certitudes of the mid- and later-20th century, and even (though it has been pretty well shaken lately) the 21st. I enjoy this one, alongside Taleb's works (which are maybe a more entertaining entry point to this probabilistic thinking, preferably in the order of their release), and also (if you are skewed toward an interest in finance as I am) this book's co-author Mervyn King's The End of Alchemy (also here on audible). End of Alchemy in a context of finance and banking gives a very elegant introduction to this same "radical uncertainty" idea, as explaining much of what finance does, whereas this one generalizes the idea to all our doings. This book certainly fits the unfolding era of COVID-19 like a glove, meanwhile giving me some degree of (relaxing?) intellectual distance from today's headlines, and more broad framework for considering it all, and making decisions (which are happening deeply and daily for me in real time as I write this, March 2020, and I see no end to this accelerated period of change). The narration here is sharp and effective.

Underneath, where's the beef? The authors are skeptical of a lot of quantitative modeling, and what they go for ("What is going on here?") might fit in risk management jargon as scenarios (though they stubbornly refuse to use the word). As a positive and novel view, it comes out a bit mushy. The concept of a "reference narrative" is useful, though how this departs from the (again essentially uncredited) concept of anchoring (in behavioral economics) is not clear. So, I didn't see anything strikingly new to me. I did benefit from its leisurely explorations around these themes.

9 people found this helpful

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A great read

The book is filled with interesting anecdotes and histories. The narrator’s dry delivery is perfect for the humorous economic inconsistencies that fill the pages.

2 people found this helpful

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So many words for the simple lesson

The essence of the book is beware of complex models, sanity check assumptions and don't relly on models too much when complexity is involved. this could've been 1 page because all the supposed evidence in the book is anecdotal at best

1 person found this helpful

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Outstanding and broadly applicable

Very well done and widely applicable to many disciplines and life in general. Well read, too, for those of you who focus too much on the speaker.

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Repetitive and monotonic

Repetitive and monotonic. Everything can and should be narrated within 3 hours, not 16. In this day and age, I believe time can be better spent on another.

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Boring and repetitive.Should have hired an editor

This book extremely boring. Narration is monotonous. Author repetes the same satement over and over. Sometimes even using the same phrasing. Examples are long and winding ( history of the the PC, for example) that you forget the original premise. He should have hired an editor.

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Provoking much food for thought

Great insight into oneself ... it certainly makes you think about what you think you know ... and what reality is .... my joke about the author is I don’t like him because he’s an economist ....I don’t like him because he speaks English ... if one were to lay all the economist head to toe a ring around the world would be former...but they would never reach a decision..... book gets very draggy at times and I did pick up the speed at which it was narrated