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Publisher's Summary

The Black Swan is a stand-alone book in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s landmark Incerto series, an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision-making in a world we don’t understand. The other books in the series are Fooled by Randomness, Antifragile, Skin in the Game, and The Bed of Procrustes.

A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was. The astonishing success of Google was a black swan; so was 9/11. For Nassim Nicholas Taleb, black swans underlie almost everything about our world, from the rise of religions to events in our own personal lives.

Why do we not acknowledge the phenomenon of black swans until after they occur? Part of the answer, according to Taleb, is that humans are hardwired to learn specifics when they should be focused on generalities. We concentrate on things we already know and time and time again fail to take into consideration what we don’t know. We are, therefore, unable to truly estimate opportunities, too vulnerable to the impulse to simplify, narrate, and categorize, and not open enough to rewarding those who can imagine the “impossible”.

For years, Taleb has studied how we fool ourselves into thinking we know more than we actually do. We restrict our thinking to the irrelevant and inconsequential, while large events continue to surprise us and shape our world. In this revelatory book, Taleb explains everything we know about what we don’t know, and this second edition features a new philosophical and empirical essay, “On Robustness and Fragility”, which offers tools to navigate and exploit a Black Swan world.

Elegant, startling, and universal in its applications, The Black Swan will change the way you look at the world. Taleb is a vastly entertaining writer, with wit, irreverence, and unusual stories to tell. He has a polymathic command of subjects ranging from cognitive science to business to probability theory. The Black Swan is a landmark book - itself a black swan.

Includes a bonus pdf of tables and figures.

Praise for Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“The most prophetic voice of all.” (GQ)

Praise for The Black Swan:

“[A book] that altered modern thinking.” (The Times, London)

“A masterpiece.” (Chris Anderson, Editor-in-chief of Wired, author of The Long Tail)

“Hugely enjoyable - compelling...easy to dip into.” (Financial Times)

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2010 Nassim Nicholas Taleb (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Engaging.... The Black Swan has appealing cheek and admirable ambition.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“[Taleb writes] in a style that owes as much to Stephen Colbert as it does to Michel de Montaigne.... We eagerly romp with him through the follies of confirmation bias [and] narrative fallacy.” (The Wall Street Journal

The Black Swan changed my view of how the world works.” (Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Laureate)

  “Idiosyncratically brilliant.” (Niall Ferguson, Los Angeles Times

What listeners say about The Black Swan, Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: With a new section: "On Robustness and Fragility"

Average Customer Ratings
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    3 out of 5 stars

Interesting, but over the top

The book has many great points and is thought provoking in many ways. However, is difficult to get past Taleb's abrasive style of writing. It's very clear he is trying to be intentionally agitating by being completely dismissive of the entire disciplines like social science, economics, and even sometimes biology. I generally prefer authors who are careful and thoughtful with their criticism, so this book annoyed me at times. Still, it has many good points, mainly that bell curves have important limitations in predicting important outliers (although he repeats this point ad nauseam). I have trouble believing, as he asserts, that many high level scientists and speculators don't know about power law distributions or think their methods are clairvoyant. Worth the read if you can get over a lot of straw manning of fields. Taleb is capable of making unique and powerful points.

21 people found this helpful

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so cool!

I'm not a technical consumer but it was a fascinating read. I think I understood 50%.

14 people found this helpful

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For some reason, this book was applauded

I was told this is an insightful book.

Turns out this book contains one thought: that gaussian probabilities do not contain everything and that you should be prepared for what they don’t tell you.

Other than that, this book only seems to contain Taleb telling how Nobel winners are ”fraudsters” and ”phonies” and only him and his close friends ”get it”.

When I was 10, my dad told me it’s okay to be proud of what you have - but that you should never be a braggard. Taleb clearly didn’t get the memo. While he probably is very intelligent, he also seems like an annoying, insufferable prick.

Would have otherwise given just one star but Taleb does raise some good points so two stars it is.

The performance is solid, though.

20 people found this helpful

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I regret listening to this audio.

so listening to this audio was quite a struggle for me. Not necessary because of the performance of The Voice narrator. Honestly I think he did a pretty good job dealing with the material he had. I found the author himself to be pompous and full of himself. Now not saying that some of the things that he was getting at wasn't useful. But this could have been summed up in a longer essay than a novel. I found the writing all over the place and made to be longer than necessary. I also felt that some of his examples where Cherry Picked at most. He seemed to attack everybody basically saying that they were all wrong and he was the only person right. So if you find yourself interested in some of the topic I would go ahead and get the book. Otherwise I would say stay away from this as much as possible. Also sorry for the novel I really just hated this book so much.

25 people found this helpful

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Anti-Statistics

The book poses a real challenge to the current paradigm of risk assessment and consequence prediction. The main idea is that most progress and catastrophes occur in unexpected leaps rather than small incremental changes. I’m still trying to figure out how this is useful to me beyond the awareness of this principle. I’ll get there...

15 people found this helpful

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Unique, relevant, and perspective altering

This book is a must read for anyone who enjoys philosophy, is seeking greater self awareness, or is interested in understanding how to think about risk. Taleb has an incredible mind, a sharp wit, and a grounded approach to life. It is so refreshing to read a book rooted in complex thought and observation, that avoids the quagmire of insular academic thought.

The performance of Joe Ochman is well suited to the tone of the book. Between the writing style and the reading it really feels like you are on a long slow walk with Taleb as he passionately explains his life’s work to you.

4 people found this helpful

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Very Interesting

Taleb introduces a completely new way of thinking and dealing with our not knowing and the unpredictability of the world. Great book.

3 people found this helpful

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Messy and filled with redundancy

Never knew one could convey simple ideas in such a convoluted manner. 5 subtitles per chapter. Weird imaginary characters with stories going nowhere. No clear thread to follow throughout the book. Too bad.

7 people found this helpful

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it'll change you..

though the book gets into boggling tangents at times, it'll definitely have you question the eventuality of things that occur to you and the world around you.. the narrator's cynicism dramatise the writers intent beautifully.

2 people found this helpful

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He's right... annoying, but right

The narrator is very well suited for the over-the-top sarcasm bordering on insult comedy that is Mr. Taleb's style. At the core is how correct Mr. Taleb is. We make significantly erroneous assumptions about the normal distribution (chief among which is that it is not so normal at all), and these errors are at the heart of quite a bit of abuse of statistics. We politely ignore them when we wail and gnash our teeth when this process leads us astray. The second edition of this book has the virtue of discussing the actual way forward - unfortunately, too little of the book focuses on Mr. Taleb's theory of the fourth quadrant and understanding when the risk is the highest and most unmanageable in making erroneous Gaussian assumptions - this is really primarily just the topic of the epilogue. On the other hand it bears taking in mind the things that happened in between the original publication of this book and the present. They prove out Mr. Taleb's point. We know better, and it is beyond time we begin to act like it.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Mr D Owers
  • 06-24-19

Excellent

Not like any book I read before. A philosophical viewpoint, elegantly explained with a great sort of condescending wit. Very funny in places and very well narrated. I watched NNT on YouTube and I actually think the narrator's voice suits this book better than the author's. It gets quite technical in places but never too much. 5 stars.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Pepe
  • 04-04-20

Interesting but too long for its content

This book discusses important views about life, risks, economics... but it soon becomes repetitive. The author spends a good deal of the book laughing at other people who he considers ignorants. That actually makes the book a bit funny but it is still too long for the message it has.

4 people found this helpful

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  • O
  • 02-23-20

Nerdy for sure!

Very nerdy. Also very interesting. But if you’re an ordinary person don’t expect to fully understand most of it. A book summary would be good in addition considering the length of the book, but I’ll jade to find one elsewhere

3 people found this helpful

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  • sophia murday
  • 01-29-20

Unbearable

I had to quit halfway through the first chapter. This is absolutely ghastly and unbearably smug

3 people found this helpful

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  • D Roberts
  • 09-30-20

Two minutes-worth squeezed into 15 hours

This audiobook somehow stretches a 2 minute idea to over 15 hours (although I sped it up to x1.7 - surprising how good Audible's player is as I could still listen perfectly well after getting used to it). The narrator was perfectly good and I pitied him having to deliver the bad dad jokes and swipes at others (unnecessary and smug).

The book's central point is that occasional extreme events can occur unexpectedly and can change everything. I didn't find this revolutionary. Other than that the book is mostly padding IMO.

Taleb calls the normal-distribution (bell curve) "the great intellectual fraud" but I heard nothing that convinced me of that (either mathematically or in application). Listen carefully and it turns out that all this criticism is not of the distribution at all, but the way he believes other people misuse it when trying to predict future trends in complex random systems. A perfectly reasonable criticism itself, but not of the normal distribution, which he admits is perfectly and mathematically sound when applied correctly, despite referring to it as a great fraud! In any case, I wondered if the misuse is really as wide spread as he implies? I don't get that impression, and he certainly didn't convince me of that point. I got the feeling he was exaggerating the whole issue to frame his own stance (i.e. setting up a straw man).

I did NOT enjoy this book. I was not convinced by his ideas. The tone is smug and conceited (he continually refers to categories of others as 'suckers' and I can't help thinking he is imagining his 'readers' who are lining his pockets). I only listened to this book as a small piece of 'self-directed learning' to add to my annual CPD for my professional body; I am glad I have finished it and will not be revisiting it.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Phil Winston
  • 06-15-19

Amazing

Probably the single best book I've ever read in my entire life. Seriously, I couldn't stop listening to it.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Kim
  • 06-17-21

Overall great, savage, but detouring book.

This book is great. Sometimes it strays from the course, but there is a reason for it. Taleb must introduce concepts with small stories that at the first glance don't have anything to do with Black Swans. Taleb is savage to Nobel laureates, mathematicians, politians and especially to Economists. As an future Economist, he fiercely attacked everything I have been taught, and I loved it!

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  • Balázs Nemcsik
  • 02-06-21

This author is genius

Intriguing for an outsider with a great deal of stories and examples. Key messages easy to understand, the rest is a pleasure to listen to.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • M.Shamsia
  • 11-30-20

this book can be summarized in one page

this book can be summarized in one page, the author keeps going around and around in circles and says nothing of essence after the first 3-4 chapters

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  • Nelson Carreras
  • 10-25-20

A deep and entertaining book

Fascinating book about the management of uncertainty and the problem of induction in science and daily life. It is also entertaining and even funny at times. A very enjoyable and profound experience to listen to.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-25-19

full of insights

it is map for how to live a life nothing short of it. it is not complete . i wish i had this when i was much younger

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Chris Christoff
  • 01-01-21

A tough book

This is a book I will need a paper copy of, to read again, with a pen to write in the margins, and despite my command of the English language, a dictionary. I will also need Google and some books on statistics (despite having studied it in an Engineering degree). Yes, I am one of those engineers. I also dress like an Australian. I have come away with a distrust of predictions, economists, politicians and the Gaussian. Maybe some of that was already there abd has now been reinforced. I have read Danny Kahneman's book, another tough but worthy read. And I am going to have to read Seneca in English.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-26-20

A necessary read.

A valuable book for anyone who has an interest in insuring they have an understanding of the limits of the knowledge which they intend to apply.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • jdk
  • 06-23-20

Masterful

A necessary text addressing, and correcting, many problems of our age. Bravo maestro. Read it.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Mark Aird
  • 05-17-20

So disappointing

I'd been looking to read this book for several years. Now I've waded through the first third, I'm so disappointed. The writing is overly verbose, seemingly to present as intellectual, while, ironically, comments are frequently anti-intellectual. The author makes frequent and unnecessary derogatory references to numerous occupations and demographics, drops the names of respected philosophers and economists people he calls name-droppers then goes on to drop names of his favourite philosophers as if those assertions to authorities bolster his points. I only made it this far into the book because just before each of the several times I all but gave up on it, he would present something of actual substance which would provoke thought. Unfortunately, those gems were too infrequent and too widely spaced apart to save this for me.

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  • Steve
  • 10-31-19

Very interesting and informative.

An excellent take down of experts that rely on statistics. Also an interesting read for anybody who has to deal with so called experts that never seem to get things right.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Louis Cohalan
  • 02-19-19

Self-assured!

Well-read in a voice that sounds as self-assured as the material. Interesting and fun listen. Very relevant and transferable material. He likes making enemies though! They won’t be giving him the Nobel anytime soon!!