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Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of…
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Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (2004)

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
I read Nassim Taleb's "The Black Swan" a couple of years ago, and now I got around to reading his previous book, "Fooled by Randomness". This is the book that made Taleb famous for his theory about the role of chance in markets. Taleb says that humans tend to explain away random events by rationalising them, instead of accepting that life has an element of randomness in it. He examines biases such as causality, "survivorship" (learning only from winners) and skewed distributions. Fortune magazine named "Fooled" as one of the smartest books of all time. I'm not so sure. While I share Taleb's contempt for the inhabitants of Wall Street, I feel the pendulum has swung too much in the opposite direction. True, not everything can be explained and rationalised; but not everything in life is down to Lady Fortuna either. ( )
  ashergabbay | Jul 8, 2013 |
An excellent book that explains clearly how probability and statistics affects everyone, or rather how not understanding randomness causes most people to over or under-estimate the likelihood of events.

In particular he demonstrates how irrational human beings are when it comes to understanding:
- black swan (rare) events and planning for them,
- that events with (seemingly) positive correlations do not necessarily mean that one causes the other, and,
- that randomness and uncertainty (i.e. luck) have a greater influence on the outcomes of human activities than most people, even those who think they act rationally, care to believe.

While written fairly clearly, I will admit that I had to read some sections more than once before I understood exactly what the author was saying, even though I have, or thought I had, a better than average understanding of probability and statistics.

Now at least I have a good understanding of why I act irrationally even when I know the true probability of success in some activities, such as when buying lottery tickets. ( )
  Davros-10 | Apr 13, 2013 |
Amazon.com provides an interesting statistical commentary on this and all other products on its site: a graphic of the relative proportions of different star ratings assigned by customer reviews. If you flip this on its side it looks a lot more like what it is: a statistical representation of customers' views of the book.

Nassim Taleb's Fooled by Randomness has an unusual "curve": a short "head" of 5 star reviews and a long tail of lesser ratings which doesn't tail off. (it's even flatter on Amazon.co.uk!) A large standard deviation, then, against a mean of four stars, compared to Leonard Mlodinow's The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives- also a four star average, but a much more conventional distribution of grades with a tighter standard deviation (a consistent curve from 50% five star to 2% one star, against Taleb's 46% five star and 11% one star).

So I have learned something from this (or Mlodinow's) book.

Having being equally entertained and aggravated by Taleb's more recent The Black Swan, I was leery of picking up this earlier effort. While Taleb is undoubtedly stimulating literary company, he does verges on being a crashing bore, crossing the verge on and ramming your letterbox on many occasions. He seems also to harbours some unremedied professional grievances - the award of Nobel prizes is something in particular which irks him. Taleb's writing is constantly grandiose and egotistical - but he is self-aware enough to not only realise but celebrate that fact.

So a real vegemite, love-him-or-hate-him sort of writer. Fooled By Randomness is, if anything, *more* bombastic, and its content less interesting. Its first half comprises mainly anecdotes (possibly apocryphal) about colleagues unnamed, and Taleb's repeated efforts to persuade you just how well read and what a voracious reader he is. (Interestingly in Black Swan he places much store in his *anti-library* - the books he has not read). Taleb's early observations about probability are pat, and under explained and, as other reviewers point out, have been more thoroughly and less idiosyncratically expounded by others (my recommendation is Leonard Mlodinow's book cited above).

On probability itself, Taleb's love of anecdote sometimes contradicts his own preaching. At one point he recounts a bit of "anecdotal empiricism" as to "Anchoring" of expectation. "I asked the local hotel concierge how long it takes to go to the airport. "40 minutes?" I asked. "About 35" he answered. Then I asked the lady at the reception if the journey was 20 minutes. "No, about 25" she said. I timed the trip: 31 minutes.

Two paragraphs later, in his next anecdote, Taleb rails against the stupidity of a man who derives conclusions from a single observation.

There is a seam of useful information in the second half of this book, but you must wade through quite a lot of self-aggrandisement to find it, and none is unique: as mentioned, there are better presented and less irritating accounts of the same information elsewhere, so Mr Taleb may be disappointed to see yet another equivocal assessment of his book on this site.

Except, he tells us, he won't be: he doesn't read or care about "amateur" reviewers on Amazon anyway, so no harm done. ( )
  ElectricRay | Mar 21, 2012 |
Like The Black Swan, this is a book by/about a self-evidently nasty man with a message to send. We aren’t good at assessing risks, and we fool ourselves that we are. Though he doesn’t use the term “value at risk,” the concept that helped overleverage and then explode the economy, he viciously and presciently critiques the mentality that led to greater and greater risks for smaller and smaller percentages of return. Though published earlier, this book is shorter and contains less inside baseball score-settling than The Black Swan, though I might recommend just reading a couple of things from his website instead of either, especially if you’re already familiar with behavioral economics and the various heuristics that distort our decisionmaking. ( )
  rivkat | Mar 12, 2012 |
I started the book with high expectations. Fooled By Randomness was supposedly one of the classics of investing, or so I heard. After reading it, I am not sure what it was. It appears to be philosophy about philosophy and science. Basic conclusions drawn can be summarized as such: (1) beware of rare event i.e. black swan (2) don't just rely on historical data purely (3) decision should be judged by circumstances when decision was made and not by outcome (4) luck plays a huge part in success/failure in random environment (5) we are emotional fool and we can do nothing about it. Book is not difficult, but neither easy read since it delves into meta philosophy quite often. And if I can say my learning from it: nothing significant. ( )
  ashishg | Jan 19, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
The lesson here for investors is powerful and frightening. How much can you rely on the track records of investment advisers, mutual fund managers, newspaper columnists, or even the market as a whole in making decisions about your investment portfolio? Not nearly as much as you probably think.

 

» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nassim Nicholas Talebprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sergio, ChristopherCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Welch, ChrisDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is the synthesis of, on one hand, the no-nonsense practitioner of uncertainty who spent his professional life trying to resist being fooled by randomness and trick the emotions associated with probabilistic outcomes and, on the other, the aesthetically obsessed, literature-loving human being willing to be fooled by any form of nonsense that is polished, refined, original, and tasteful.
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Table of Contents from Worldcat:

Preface -- Acknowledgments for the updated second edition -- Chapter summaries -- Prologue -- pt. I. Solon's warning : skewness, asymmetry, induction -- 1. If you're so rich, why aren't you so smart? -- Nero Tulip -- Hit by lightning -- Temporary sanity -- Modus operandi -- No work ethics -- There are always secrets -- John the high-yield trader -- An overpaid hick -- The red-hot summer -- Serotonin and randomness -- You dentist is rich, very rich -- 2. A bizarre accounting method -- Alternative history -- Russian roulette -- Possible worlds -- An even more vicious roulette -- Smooth peer relations -- Salvation via aeroflot -- Solon visits Regine's nightclub -- George Will is no Solon : on counterintuitive truths -- Humiliated in debates -- A different kind of earthquake -- Proverbs galore -- Risk managers -- Epiphenomena -- 3. A mathematical mediation on history -- Europlayboy mathematics -- The tools -- Monte Carlo mathematics -- Fun in my attic -- Making history -- Zorglubs crowding the attic -- Denigration of history -- The stove is hot -- Skills in predicting past history -- My Solon -- Distilled thinking on your PalmPilot -- Breaking news -- Shiller redux -- Gerontocracy -- Philostratus in Monte Carlo : on the difference between noise and information -- 4. Randomness, nonsense, and the scientific intellectual -- Randomness and the verb -- Reverse turing test -- The father of all pseudothinkers -- Monte Carlo poetry -- 5. Survival of the least fit, can evolution be fooled by randomness? -- Carlos the emerging-markets wizard -- The good years -- Averaging down -- Lines in the sand -- John the high-yield trader -- The quant who knew computers and equations -- The traits they shared -- A review of market fools of randomness constants -- Naive evolutionary theories -- Can evolution be fooled by randomness? -- 6. Skewness and asymmetry -- The median is not the message -- Bull and bear zoology -- An arrogant twenty-nine-year-old son -- Rare events -- Symmetry and science -- Almost everybody is above average -- The rare-event fallacy -- The mother of all deceptions -- Why don't statisticians detect rare events? -- A mischievous child replaces the black balls -- 7. The problem of induction -- From Bacon to Hume -- Cygnus Stratus -- Nordhoff's -- Sir Karl's promoting agent -- Location, location -- Popper's answer -- Open society -- Nobody is perfect -- Induction and memory -- Pascal's wager -- Thank you, Solon -- pt. II. Monkeys on typewriters : survivorship and other biases -- It depends on the number of monkeys -- Vicious real life -- This section -- 8. Too many millionaires next door -- How to stop the sting of failure -- Somewhat happy -- Too much work -- You're a failure -- Double survivorship biases -- More experts -- Visibility winners -- It's a bull market -- A guru's opinion -- 9. It is easier to buy and sell than fry an egg -- Fooled by numbers -- Placebo investors -- Nobody has to be competent -- Regression to the mean -- Ergodicity -- Life is coincidental -- The mysterious letter -- An interrupted tennis game -- Reverse survivors -- The birthday paradox -- It's a small world! -- Data mining, statistics, and charlatanism -- The best book I have ever read! -- The backtester -- A more unsettling extension -- The earnings season : fooled by the results -- Comparative luck -- Cancer cures -- Professor Pearson goes to Monte Carlo (literally) : randomness does not look random! -- The dog that did not bark : on biases in scientific knowledge -- I have no conclusion -- 10. Loser takes all, on the nonlinearities of life -- The sandpile effect -- Enter randomness -- Learning to type -- Mathematics inside and outside the real world -- The science of networks -- Our brain -- Buridan's donkey or the good side of randomness -- When it rains, it pours -- 11. Randomness and our mind : we are probability blind -- Paris or the Bahamas? -- Some architectural considerations -- Beware the philosopher bureaucrat -- Satisficing -- Flawed, not just imperfect -- Kahneman and Tversky -- Where is Napoleon when we need him? -- "I'm as good as my last trade" and other heuristics -- Degree in a fortune cookie -- Two systems of reasoning -- Why we don't marry the first date -- Our natural habitat -- Fast and frugal -- Neurobiologists too -- Kafka in a courtroom -- An absurd world -- Examples of biases in understanding probability -- We are option blind -- Probabilities and the media (more journalists) -- CNBC at lunchtime -- You should be dead by now -- The Bloomberg explanations -- Filtering methods -- We do not understand confidence levels -- An admission -- pt. III. Wax in my ears : living with randomitis -- I am not so intelligent -- Wittgenstein's ruler -- The Odyssean mute command -- 12. Gamblers' ticks and pigeons in a box -- Taxi-cab English and causality -- The Skinner pigeon experiment -- Philostratus redux -- 13. Carneades comes to Rome : on probability and skepticism -- Carneades comes to Rome -- Probability, the child of skepticism -- Monsieur de Norpois' opinions -- Path dependence of beliefs -- Computing instead of thinking -- From funeral to funeral -- 14. Bacchus abandons Antony -- Notes on Jackie O.'s funeral -- Randomness and personal elegance -- Epilogue. Solon told you so -- Beware the London traffic jams -- Postscript. Three afterthoughts in the shower -- First thought : the inverse skills problem -- Second though : on some additional benefits of randomness -- Uncertainty and happiness -- The scrambling of messages -- Third thought : standing on one leg -- Acknowledgments for the first edition -- A trip to the library : notes and reading recommendations -- Notes -- References -- Index.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0812975219, Paperback)

If the prescriptions for getting rich that are outlined in books such as The Millionaire Next Door and Rich Dad Poor Dad are successful enough to make the books bestsellers, then one must ask, Why aren't there more millionaires? In Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a professional trader and mathematics professor, examines what randomness means in business and in life and why human beings are so prone to mistake dumb luck for consummate skill. This eccentric and highly personal exploration of the nature of randomness meanders from the court of Croesus and trading rooms in New York and London to Russian roulette, Monte Carlo engines, and the philosophy of Karl Popper. Part of what makes this book so good is Taleb's ability to make seemingly arcane mathematical concepts (at least to this reviewer) entirely relevant in evaluating and understanding everything from the stock market to the success of those millionaires cited in the aforementioned bestsellers. Here's an articulate, wise, and humorous meditation on the nature of success and failure that anyone who wants a little more of the former would do well to consider. Highly recommended. --Harry C. Edwards

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:18:54 -0400)

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Contends that randomness and probability have a large impact on life, claims that people regularly fail to recognize that role, and tells how to differentiate between randomness in general and the financial markets in particular.

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