Decent artwork, but formulaic and extremely predictable story. The first book was interesting in that it set a scene that had never been done before.Decent artwork, but formulaic and extremely predictable story. The first book was interesting in that it set a scene that had never been done before. Post-apocalyptic, yes, that has been done, endlessly. But a world ruled by gangs of foodies and vegans? Now that's original. This book, however, has no original world-it's basically set in a caricature of Japanese culture. The Jiro back story unfolds exactly as you would predict it to. And the rest of the content consists of pubescent boy fantasy. I'm only bumping this up to 3 stars because I did enjoy the artwork....more
If I had it to do over again, I would not read this book, and recommend that no one else does either. I can't see what possible value could come of itIf I had it to do over again, I would not read this book, and recommend that no one else does either. I can't see what possible value could come of it. However, if you miss arguing with that slightly precocious, overly obnoxious, but largely ignorant guy you knew freshman year of college, this book may be for you. I should have quit after 50 pages, but soldiered on through because of the high number of recommendations it's gotten and because of associations with much better books.
The book consists of three major claims:
1) Unexpected things (black swans) happen, but no one expects them because they are not as smart as the author. The author, meanwhile, while extolling us to accept that unpredictable things happen, never ceases to remind us of all of his successes in finance and elsewhere in life were due to his skill and merit.
2) Academics are idiots. "Practitioners," like the author, and also cab drivers, know more about the world than they do.
3) Every statistician and academic uses the bell curve and assumes that everything follows that distribution. Except the author, of course.
Actually, the one major claim of the book is how much more the author knows and understands than almost everyone. This claim rarely fails to be repeated every few pages. The few exceptions for knowledge are made for people who truly are exceptional, in my eyes, like Montaigne, Popper, and Daniel Kahneman. But other than name-checking them, this book bears no connection, in thought or tone, to the writing of any of those men.
I actually agree with some of what the book says about highly improbably outcomes, and how some human constructs, like the financial system, tend to ignore these. We see this all the time. Most people know it. They ignore it because the system, in some way or another, creates incentives for doing so. Yeah, some people knew the housing market was actually a house of cards (covered much more elegantly by Michael Lewis in the The Big Short). But they got to experience a nice long run of enjoyment before it collapsed. Nate Silver points out in The Signal and the Noise that housing has never been a good investment, at least historically (because of the losses incurred due to expenses of upkeep, insurance, etc.). Yet the fact is that in many places of the country people do think homes have intrinsic, increasing value, and thus people can profit from it even while knowing that in the long run the bubble is going to burst again. I'm not going to never buy a house, or avoid attempting to profit from doing, just because another collapse might come, or because homes didn't appreciate in value before 1980.
But Taleb fails to actually talk elegantly about any real subject. He doesn't get to the root of why mistakes are made in financial markets, or give us any history to them. He provides no insight. When he talks about subjects that I am familiar with, he actually describes them completely in correctly. For example, he attempts to summarize the debate between creationists and evolutionary theorists (in which he 'does not partake,'), as being because evolutionary theorists "see the world as a result of random changes by an aimless process." This is actually a creationist definition of evolution, and not one any evolutionary theorist would claim. Evolution is actually a product of a highly selective process: natural selection. The raw material on which evolution works are variations, and mutation, among other processes like genetic recombination, creates that variation. Mutation, itself, is (mostly) random, and thus there is a component of randomness. But it is far and away not accurate to describe evolution as an aimless process. It's a highly selective process, because of the mechanism of natural selection (it's literally in the name).
And that's just one example of his relative ignorance of subjects about which he is writing, but relatively minor compared to his treatment of the use of "the bell curve." This is easily the largest of the many hay bails worth of strawmen he builds in this text. His knowledge of statistics seems to be informed primarily by use and misuse by financial analysts, of which anyone with an academic bent has quickly detected if they've looked at any of what many short-term traders employ as tools. I agree with him that a lot of those tools and techniques are, basically, meaningless. But it's not because they are based on bell curves, but because the data they are using to predict has no predictive power.
However, what he fails to recognize is that there are many more statistical methods that have no reliance on assumptions of normality (e.g., non-parametric statistics), and, in fact, one could say that other approaches are actually more popular in most fields these days. While extolling us to recognize that fractal geometry exists (and I've never met a mathematically-oriented person who doesn't know this), he simultaneously fails to recognize that people have long known that other distributions of data other than the bell curve exists, and that it's actually possible by way of transformation to still use techniques that rely on normality assumptions. Taleb's knowledge is so superficial, however, that he doesn't even hint that he's aware of any of these ideas, not even with a casual, misrepresented reference, as is contained in much of the rest of the book. He simply portrays them inaccurately, to make an argument that goes nowhere substantive.
In the end, read a better book, particularly Thinking Fast and Slow, which also took me a long time to read, but for entirely different reasons. Thinking Fast and Slow was so packed with ideas that I had to ponder them at length every few pages, and Daniel Kahneman even admitted that some human biases are so ingrained that even with knowledge of them he himself could not avoid them (he communicates with great humility), and that maybe none of us can. The Black Swan was literally the exact opposite book, with little knowledge contained with in, but communicated in such a disdainful and ignorant way that it actually made me less thoughtful.
The second star was because it was not poorly written, and that counts for something....more
OK book with some tidbits of information surrounded by interesting narratives. Unfortunately, it seems to regurgitate many points made by other, betteOK book with some tidbits of information surrounded by interesting narratives. Unfortunately, it seems to regurgitate many points made by other, better books, most specifically Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. Unlike that book, where I was often "wowed," with this one I was more "huhed."...more
I can see how in 1971 this might have been innovative. Now it's just depressing because the workplace madness he describes is even more the norm todayI can see how in 1971 this might have been innovative. Now it's just depressing because the workplace madness he describes is even more the norm today.
I read "Women" first and found it to be much funnier and more interesting. But I can see how the groundwork was laid for that book with this one. Discussing Bukowski evolving seems like something that would piss him off, but it's definitely there....more
This was a fun read. It adopts the mythos of most recent occult stories that the supernatural always have been living among us (just, mostly, unnoticeThis was a fun read. It adopts the mythos of most recent occult stories that the supernatural always have been living among us (just, mostly, unnoticed), just going about their daily lives like we do. It follows the trope of an unlikely hero, in this case a bookish accountant turned vampire. It's a funny idea, and the book largely focuses on humor. The writing was a little uneven. At it's best, when it stuck the occult but approached it in a matter of fact, colloquial manner, it was laugh out loud funny.
At it's worst it read like something out of Penthouse Letters (not that I ever read those...). It was never explicit enough to merit consideration fir a Bad Sex in Writing award, but it verged on such whenever it described the romantic interactions of the protagonist. In all fairness, that's true to the voice of the protagonist, who first person narrates, but it's still cringe worthy in the reading.
Best part: an unlikely Werepony.
Worst part: copying True Blood, one of the most disappointing things to ever happen to vampiredom, the author claims that vampire teeth are incisors, when any sane person knows that they're the canines....more
Well, as a Reds fan that was painful to read, since the Reds seemed to be the author's favorite team against which to show the Pirates' newfound succeWell, as a Reds fan that was painful to read, since the Reds seemed to be the author's favorite team against which to show the Pirates' newfound success. Add to that the fact that the Pirates literally replaced the Reds as competition against the Cardinals, and that the Reds were and continue to be one of the least analytically savvy teams in baseball.
But I enjoyed the book, anyway. It was succinct, balanced technical detail with the story, and was very timely. We're not seeing the story ten years after the fact, but literally as it continues to be told on the field of play, for the Pirates, and across baseball....more
First off, I agree with the premise of this book. I was also a big fan of Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, which was addressing all of the ways in whichFirst off, I agree with the premise of this book. I was also a big fan of Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, which was addressing all of the ways in which our PC culture is failing us, more than a decade ago (in other words, before articles were running in the Atlantic about it). But comedians are always ahead of the rest of is in recognizing the perverse irony of our society (see, for example, everything ever said by Saint Carlin).
Unfortunately, while I liked the premise of Tough Crowd, I just don't love Colin Quinn. His timing is always a little off, the hesitance, it evens comes across in the writing. Some of it just isn't that funny. About 3 out of every 5 funny lines lands for me (hence the rating), and it's not because I'm sensitive about the offensiveness of the jokes, just that the jokes are not that great. In a short (200 page) book, 90% of the humor should land.
At the same time, I appreciate the content and Quinn's perspective. A lot of his upbringing sounds like mine (the brutal, what we would call today "offensive" honesty), the difference being that his was in a diverse neighborhood whereas I was in Midwest monoculture. I often find myself missing the days when people said what they believed, and I could tell someone what I really thought, instead of constant censorship due to fears of repercussions. Whether wrong or right, which is always in the eye of the beholder, no one says what they mean anymore. People say what they think others want to hear.
So in the end, I'm conflicted on whether this book is about a guy getting old and bemoaning what society is becoming (in which case, I'm afraid to rate it highly for fear of association), or whether Quinn is completely right about everything and we should all read this and force ourselves to walk in his shoes and appreciate this unique perspective....more