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The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

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Nassim argues that most of the really big events in our world are rare and unpredictable, and thus trying to extract generalizable stories to explain them may be emotionally satisfying, but it's practically useless...
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Pompous and intellectually demented
Taleb is a classic science denier, oscillating between anti-science and pseudo-intellectual arguments.

When a scientist says something he likes, he misrepresents it to fit his narrative. When the scientific consensus is against him, he cries grand conspiracy theory or slanders the methods of science.

His argumentation in this book is like a case study in logical fallacies.

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Amazing book and writer
This guy is a genius, I really honored to even be able to read his book, he has alot of knowledge and I learned so much from this man.

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Sosadeville orange, Florida

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Timmy4210 gaylord , mi

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Not what I was expecting
For some reason I expected much more from this book. To me it didn't really give me much in respect with trading advice or technique. The book is also lengthy, but I definitely think the author didn't need 400 pages to say/explain what he said/explained. At times it was kind of boring and redundant (I remember the first 15-20 pages being a torture). I came to this book looking for more trading related advice and not just definitions and word puzzles. It was interesting though and entertained. It opened my mind to always expect the unexpected

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Henriksantander Toronto, ON

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Can be boiled down to this: Keep an open mind.
This book was very entertaining and definitely influenced my way of thinking. That being said, the whole work was not completely relevant to trading and where it was, it tended to be redundant. The whole book can probably be boiled down to the single lesson of keeping in open mind. The difference though is that this one lesson that I'm sure everyone has heard, is now being framed in the context of probability which is what makes this book unique.

I would definitely recommend reading this but it is probably best suited to the coffee table rather than your bookshelf of trading materials. The author himself is, or rather was, a trader though so it's not as if the book never relates the ideas back to trading. It does on occasion but the lessons are so broad that they aren't really able to be applied to single trades. Rather, the hope is that you will alter your mindset so as to trade more carefully and understand the influence of what seems highly unlikely.

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Indoorweeds Colorado Springs, Colorado

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Nice Thesis
While reading Taleb's "The Black Swan," I cannot be as excited as many of those who see this as a breath of fresh air, as a new way of looking at things. The central point being made by Taleb is quite on target; there are unpredictable events that can occur that simply cannot be anticipated or predicted. We are too often overconfident in our ability to predict and try to shape the future. But I do have questions about his book. First, his thesis is hardly novel. Robert Nisbet (a social scientist, a species of being beneath contempt in Taleb's universe) said essentially the same thing over thirty years ago (Quoting from his "The Year 2000 and All That"):

"It is very different with studies of change in human society. Here the Random Event, the Maniac, the Prophet, and the Genius have to be reckoned with. We have absolutely no way of escaping them. The future-predictors don't suggest that we can avoid them or escape them. . . . What the future-predictors. . .say in effect is that with the aid of institute resources, computers, linear programming, etc., they will deal with the kinds of change that are not the consequences of the Random Event, the Genius, the Maniac, and the Prophet [which sound like black swans to this reader]. To which I can only say: there really aren't any; not any worth looking at anyhow."

That's the basic point of Taleb's book, so he's not exactly breaking new ground. Taleb says on page xxvii that he's sticking "my neck out" to claim that "our world is dominated by the extreme, the unknown, and the very improbable. . . ." What sticking out his neck? A well regarded academic said much the same thing thirty years ago and, to the best of my knowledge, Nisbet wasn't perceived as "sticking his neck out" or punished for his apostasy.

Second, his presentation misses the point on a number of matters. He mentions the punctuated equilibrium approach to evolutionary change. This view contends that there is stasis over long periods of time and then a quick burst of evolutionary change. Taleb focuses, in this book, on such punctuational events. However, most of the time, there is stasis. We cannot simply ignore what is normal over long periods of time and only focus on those rare black swans that transform things. Take elections. For a period of time, there is predictability in electoral and party dynamics. Then, every so often, for reasons that can't be predicted beforehand [a black swan event], the electoral and party system changes in a relatively short period of time. Does that mean we should ignore "ordinary politics" associated with "calm political periods"? No, that's absurd--but that's also Taleb's argument. We should ignore "central tendency" (in statistical terms) and only consider outliers (extraordinary events)? That doesn't make much sense.

He also cites people who actually undermine some of his arguments. Kahneman's work on cognitive biases is very important and supports well the book's argument. But Taleb cites (but does not discuss in detail) Gigerenzer, who argues that heuristics and cognitive biases, as a result of evolution, are very accurate, contrary to Kahneman's work. Since Taleb cites Gigerenzer, he ought to note that the latter's view of cognition moves in a different direction, in opposition to the book's thesis. In contradiction to Taleb's discussion on pages 81-82, Gigerenzer argues that intuition is at least as valid and accurate as the cognitive, thinking system.

Third, as a number of reviewers note, there's a lot of anger in this book. Sarcasm and venom directed at entire professions based on an isolated anecdote here or there seem to run against the author's own arguments about how we ought to make decisions. In Kahneman's terms, Taleb falls prey to the "representativeness heuristic" [overgeneralizing from small sample sizes], falls prey to the "availability heuristic" [using whatever vivid examples come quickly to mind, such as the dopey political scientist wed to game theory--as if this justifies dismissing the entire discipline from one example], and he obviously falls prey to "confirmation bias" since he does not challenge his own thesis and try to falsify it but focuses instead on providing evidence to support his perspective [RIP his devotion to Karl Popper]. His snide dismissal of thinkers like Wittgenstein tends to be theater with little substance. If you want to trash someone, provide some reason and logic for doing so. And while I agree with many of Taleb's criticisms of thinkers and systems of thought, I am unimpressed with his snide put downs that don't advance understanding.

Fourth, he tends to set up "straw men" and then demolish these. For instance, he criticizes planning. The idea of planning covers a lot of territory--from the old Soviet plans to strategic planning. The former? His analysis is right on. The latter? If done well, strategic planning is a boon for an organization and he is not accurate in his judgment. His statement on planning is so broadly stated that it becomes close to meaningless.

In the final analysis, the author advances a provocative and useful thesis. Black swans are important factors in change processes. How we humans deal with the world tends to make us oblivious to rare and unpredictable events and their consequences. Very good points. However, this is hardly a unique insight. And the supporting logic and rationale is sometimes not so compelling; a focus on the outliers and an exhortation to ignore the routine is unconvincing. His style of argumentation by dismissal rather than by addressing concrete ideas and theories with which he disagrees is not helpful. So, it's an intriguing book, but it has problems that the reader needs to evaluate.

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RanceM Chicago, Il

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Good read
Good read especially for those in academia. Not sure where it falls in place though with practicality, but overall great read.

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Ideology more then Methodology.
Yes, overly verbose, vague terms and expressions. At the end of the day the idea of this book is powerful and even if it lacks truth-value; it opens your eyes towards a new way of looking at things. A must read in finance, economics, and also just at how the book affects psychology is intriguing. Just re-read again and still am working out rebuttals for Taleb's ideas. If too much to swallow cliff note this baby at least.

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