The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
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The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

3.7 236
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
     
 

ISBN-10: 1400063515

ISBN-13: 9781400063512

Pub. Date: 04/17/2007

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

The Black Swan is a standalone 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, and The Bed of Procrustes.

A black

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Overview

The Black Swan is a standalone 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, 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.
 
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
 
“Idiosyncratically brilliant.”—Niall Ferguson, Los Angeles Times
 
The Black Swan changed my view of how the world works.”—Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate
 
“[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
 
“Hugely enjoyable—compelling . . . easy to dip into.”Financial Times
 
“Engaging . . . The Black Swan has appealing cheek and admirable ambition.”—The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400063512
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/17/2007
Series:
Incerto Series
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
166,226
Product dimensions:
6.45(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.51(d)

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Black Swan 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 236 reviews.
Jim-McInvale More than 1 year ago
Just as the negative space gives form to the objective in a work of art, so the unknown gives relevance to knowledge. In The Black Swan, Taleb shows that all human knowledge is but a collection of crude marks on a vast canvas of ignorance. We know much less than we think we know, and understand even that poorly. Further, our history, both personal and collective, is governed by events that we did not predict, could not have predicted, and really do not comprehend. Taleb defines the black swan concept as an event with three characteristics: unpredictability, extreme impact, and (unfortunately) the power to inspire us to contrive ex post facto explanations. For much of history conventional wisdom held that all swans were white. When Europeans colonized Australia and found black swans, however, an entire body of knowledge was upended. That is a key concept. Some events out there will obliterate all prior understanding. These events reside in a province Taleb dubs "Extremistan." Despite our blindness to high-impact black swan events, we always go back and contrive explanations that would have predicted those events. Narrative fallacy is a term the author uses to describe how we fit facts to a preconceived story. After the dust settles, we tell ourselves that we are smarter now, and wait for the next Black Swan, drunk with the false belief that we understand the risk and are somehow protected from it. Taleb describes several other mental traps. Epistemic arrogance is a term he uses to tell us that we are not nearly as smart as we think, and confirmation error is the tendency to look for instances that confirm our beliefs. It is our nature to connect random facts, weave a story, and then force fit this crude mental model onto physical reality. We do this not only to make future predictions, but also to interpret the past. Causal stories we contrive to make historic events appear deterministic are in fact just a cherry picking of facts to fit a story. We can't even predict history well. The author cautions us to be very wary of any human explanations: he makes a strong argument that we should avoid making strong arguments. Despite the shortcomings of our primitive mental processors, the situation is not entirely as hopeless. Though we can know little of the events that most impact our lives, we can profit from the delusion of others. Financial markets are driven by a great many people that underestimate the impact and likelihood of Black Swan events. We can profit by betting on long shots, doing it a lot, but placing only small bets. That way, the losses will be bounded and you never suffer from catastrophic black swan events. Taleb cashed in this strategy, and retired to pursue his passion for philosophy. When someone writes with intensity and honesty, the reader invariably gets a sense of the writer's personality. So it is with Taleb. He is a brilliant and unconventional thinker with little respect for established and institutionalized knowledge. Platonified (compartmentalized) thinking incenses him and he despises the high priests of academia - the ministers of what Robert Pirsig called "The Church of Reason". Taleb disdains their sacraments (especially the Gaussian curve) and their holiest institutions (e.g. the Nobel Prize.) I went through most of the book believing the writer a man of very strong opinions, only to realize at the end that I was, of course, wrong. Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a man of extreme opinions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Easy enough to understand but rarely used in practice... Taleb's overwhelming point in this entertaining book is simple... 'Keep your eyes wide open'. Through his anecdotal reasoning Taleb illustrates case after case and historical reference after historical reference with a unique narrative style that is slightly fragmented yet nearly as entertaining as what you might expect from a work of fiction often leaving the reader with a discernable smile while mumbling to himself: 'Hmmm... You know this guy's got a point!¿ With an impressive understanding of the human social condition and our psychological tendencies, Taleb lays good claim to how we fail to anticipate, react to and make sense of the random events that have the greatest impact on our lives. In the end Taleb offers no specific solution or process by which one can profit or gain from the unexpected... however, the reader invariably learns the value of 'skepticism' and can easily see how this primarily philosophical dogma can be applicable to real life and of course, the financial markets! The Black Swan does more to re-align one's perspective than anything else, but few books do as good a job in this regard.
Guest More than 1 year ago
According to critic Harold Bloom, Hamlet's predicament is not 'that he thinks too much' but rather that 'he thinks too well,' being ultimately 'unable to rest in illusions of any kind.' The same could be said for philosopher, essayist and trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who finds something rotten in misguided yet supremely confident investment gurus, traders, hedge fund managers, Wall Street bankers, M.B.A.s, CEOs, Nobel-winning economists and others who claim that they can predict the future and explain the past. Like everyone else, says Taleb, these so-called 'experts' fail to appreciate 'black swans': highly consequential but unlikely events that render predictions and standard explanations worse than worthless. Taleb's style is personal and literary, but his heterodox insights are rigorous (if sometimes jolted by authorial filigree). This combination makes for a thrilling, disturbing, contentious and unforgettable book on chance and randomness. While Taleb offers strong medicine some readers may find too bitter at times, we prescribe it to anyone who wants a powerful inoculation against gullibility.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could hardly make myself finish the book. Mr. Taleb devotes thousands of words to weaving together quip anecdotal musings that struggle to support his loosely defined thesis statements. Using a short, choppy prose style we are forced to review Mr. Taleb¿s observations of ¿nonlinearities¿ that seem to better highlight the authors worldly travels and successful friends than offer new insights. The popularity of this book simply illustrates our societal weakness for catchy titles and to ¿listen¿ to anyone who speaks authoritatively about the unknown.
a_priori More than 1 year ago
This book simply challenges our presuppositions regarding our ability to understand the world we live in. It seems that many of the long-held and cherished statistical dogmas that we depend on to interpret our past, present and future are simply and demonstrably false. Sometimes counterintuitive, frequently funny, always engaging and highly addictive, this book will prove to be one of the important works of the early 21st Century.
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This book is way too long for what it actually has to say. I found it rather annoying. There are better books out there.
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NathanIves More than 1 year ago
In his book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Dr. Nassim Nicholas Taleb illustrates the truly unpredictable nature of black swan events. He shows how the limits of human imagination and available information hide the possibility of these events from us regardless of the retrospective assertions made by `the experts.' Dr. Taleb goes on to reveal micro-level black swans that influence the day-to-day success and failure of companies and individual employees. The Black Swan brings to the forefront the reality of unpredictable events. Through his proof of their existence, Dr. Taleb creates a mandate for executives and managers to examine and prepare their organization to deal with black swan events at the corporate and employee level. The one shortcoming of Dr. Taleb's book is the absence of a set of guiding protocols or principles for effectively dealing with black swan events once they occur. This remains as an outstanding research and development project for the reader with no initial direction provided. I like The Black Swan for its exposure of unpredictable events and the inferred call to action to prepare one's organization to deal with these catastrophes commensurate with the organization's overall risk profile; making The Black Swan a StrategyDriven recommended read. All the Best, Nathan Ives StrategyDriven Principal
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