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The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (2007)

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Incerto (2)

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7,907183942 (3.74)1 / 105
Examines the role of the unexpected, discussing why improbable events are not anticipated or understood properly, and how humans rationalize the black swan phenomenon to make it appear less random.

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 Philosophy and Theory: The Black Swan8 unread / 8Jesse_wiedinmyer, June 2007

» See also 105 mentions

English (160)  Italian (5)  Dutch (5)  German (4)  Spanish (3)  French (3)  Czech (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (182)
Showing 1-5 of 160 (next | show all)
'The subtitle of this book ('the impact of the highly improbable') underlines why it is so relevant to the current pandemic despite the fact that it was published in 2007. Written in accessible prose, 'The Black Swan' gives us simple tools for spotting the elephants on the world stage (and in financial markets). MK
  LibraryofMistakes | Sep 26, 2022 |
Gaussian bell curve bad. Fractal geometry good. ( )
  stevieboy573 | Aug 14, 2022 |
This book contains interesting ideas presented in a sometimes ranty, sometime repetitive, and sometimes rambly manner. Overall, I enjoyed it, but I would not necessarily recommend it.

Taleb's topic of discussion was the black swan: those events that are not amenable to statistical modeling, at least not the common sort of statistical modeling that assumes that the domain being modeled has gaussian properties. They are highly unpredictable, high impact events, especially those that everyone, after the fact, thinks were perfectly predictable, Taleb spends much the book defining the black swan (and a good portion of it going on about why he likes or dislikes particular intellectuals). Beyond the definition, he comes back time and again to two points.

First, black swans are often just a matter of perception. A particular prediction may seem "safe" because the risks are assumed to be so unlikely that they can be ignored. When that "so unlikely" scenario occurs, it's occurrence is a black swan to those who assumed it would never happen. But to those who did not discount the risk so readily, it's what Taleb calls a grey swan -- still unpredictable, but not completely out of the blue.

Second, in a world riddled with black swans, a world that is not nearly as tidy and predictable as people would like to see it, what is the best strategy for dealing with risk? To answer this question, it helps to observe that black swans are often asymmetric: either the the maximum positive or maximum negative impact swamps the other. People who are trying to play it safe often try to avoid things with a large positive upside -- those are the things we traditionally call risky -- and instead inadvertently end up relying on those things with a large but invisible negative downside.

Taleb recommends switching this mentality: Be on the lookout for negative risks that are being waved away as too unlikely and avoid those things. Instead, put more resources into the higher risk, higher reward scenarios. In other words, don't look for moderate risk bets -- in practice they may be hidden high risk bets. Instead, split yourself between super safe bets (which, in reality are still riskier than you would expect) and bets with high risk and big potential payoff. You'll actually end up more moderate on average than taking the bets that seem moderate but really are not.

I don't know if that's a good strategy, but it's certainly an intriguing one to think about. And that really sums up my feelings about this book: I'm not sure if it's good, but it was intriguing. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
Should be subtitled: How Not to Be a Sucker.

I'm not sure why all the negativity about this book, maybe it's a backlash to all the hype it received. It's not a great piece of literature per se but I don't think that was the author's intention. The ideas are well conceived and presented in a manner that is going to get your attention. I personally enjoyed the casual manner of the text in what could be otherwise a pretty soporific subject.

The global economic collapse that happened after this book was published makes it's subject all that more profound and certainly Taleb's cheap shots against Wall Street, economists, and politicians in general seem almost prescient. It turns out the majority of the industrial world, including most of us, were suckers when the Black Swan arrived.

To be fair, it did take me a couple of shots to stick with the book, but in the end it was worth it. ( )
  Gumbywan | Jun 24, 2022 |
This is a tough book to review. It covers some of my favorite subjects, e.g. fat tails and critical point phenomena in statistical physics. That this book came out just before the great 2008 financial meltdown, and Taleb really sketches out the exact scenario that played out then... amazing, really! Plus Taleb frames all this in a deeper epistemological framework. There are many great insights in this book!

The problem I have with the book is that it's scattered, disjointed. Taleb admits as much at the start. It's a bit of a stream of consciousness. He's got a lot of stories and slogans, but never really spends enough time with one before racing on to the next. By the time the reader is at the end of the book, the whole system has been orbited enough times that the terrain is reasonably clear. ( )
  kukulaj | Mar 31, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 160 (next | show all)
Since the book was written prior to the current situation, many of the insights will seem prophetic. For instance, “regulators in the banking business are prone to a severe expert problem and they tend to condone reckless but (hidden) risk taking.” Some might think that the book specifically predicted the current market and economic crisis—wrong. The book is about the expectation that it could occur.
added by dtw42 | editBusiness Economics, Gerald L Musgrave (pay site) (Aug 11, 2011)
Some of his presentation is incendiary in criticizing economics, finance, and many of its most honored practitioners. Because the book is viewed as being partly about Taleb himself and because of the style of the presentation, some react to the author's persona. If you are forewarned and forearmed, it is easier to focus on the ideas in the book. Because the arguments are controversial, it is understandable that he has chosen to have sharp elbows in getting to the front of the stage.
Taleb and his publishers clearly believe the success of Fooled by Randomness is going to come again. But that book had a persuasive sobriety. The same cannot be said for The Black Swan, which despite the great utility of its insights is badly structured and hurriedly written.
added by Jozefus | editThe Guardian, Giles Foden (May 12, 2007)
"The Black Swan" has appealing cheek and admirable ambition, and contains such wise observations as: “We attribute our successes to our skills, and our failures to external events outside our control.” But the book exhibits shortcomings, the first being lack of structure.

» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nassim Nicholas Talebprimary authorall editionscalculated
Pietiläinen, KimmoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Benoît Mandelbrot, a Greek among Romans
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Before the discovery of Australia, people in the Old World were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by empirical evidence.
Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Die beste Strategie besteht also darin, möglichst viel auszuprobieren und möglichst viele Chancen, aus den sich Schwarze Schwäne ergeben könnten, zu ergreifen.
Die narrative Verzerrung ist Ausdruck unserer eingeschränkten Fähigkeit, Reihen von Fakten zu betrachten, ohne eine Erklärung in sie hineinzuweben oder, was dasselbe bedeutet, gewaltsam eine logische Verknüpfung, einen Beziehungspfeil zwischen ihnen herzustellen. Erklärungen binden Fakten zusammen. Sie sorgen dafür, dass wir uns viel leichter an sie erinnern können, dass sie mehr Sinn ergeben. Diese Neigung kann uns aber in die Irre führen, wenn sie unseren Eindruck, dass wir verstehen, verstärkt.
Wir sind soziale Tiere; die Hölle sind andere Menschen.
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Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Examines the role of the unexpected, discussing why improbable events are not anticipated or understood properly, and how humans rationalize the black swan phenomenon to make it appear less random.

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Book description
Table of Contents from Worldcat:

Umberto Eco's antilibrary, or how we seek validation. The apprenticeship of an empirical skeptic ; Yevgenia's black swan ; The speculator and the prostitute ; One thousand and one days, or how not to be a sucker ; Confirmation shmonfirmation! ; The narrative fallacy ; Living in the antechamber of hope ; Giacomo Casanova's unfailing luck : the problem of silent evidence ; The Ludic fallacy, or the uncertainty of the nerd -- We just can't predict. The scandal of prediction ; How to look for bird poop ; Epistemocracy, a dream ; Appelles the Painter, or what do you do if you cannot predict? -- Those gray swans of Extremistan. From Mediocristan to Extremistan and back ; The bell curve, that great intellectual fraud ; The aesthetics of randomness ; Locke's madmen, or bell curves in the wrong places ; The uncertainty of the phony -- The end. Half and half, or how to get even with the black swan -- Epilogue : Yevgenia's white swans.
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