Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” as Want to Read:
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

(Incerto #2)

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  94,751 ratings  ·  5,688 reviews
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 everythin
Hardcover, 366 pages
Published May 15th 2007 by Random House (first published April 17th 2007)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Black Swan, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
This question contains spoilers... (view spoiler)
Iván Fanego I just finished it yesterday and my only regret is to not have read years ago. It is wonderful, it will change the way you see the world.
This question contains spoilers... (view spoiler)
Lucas Carlson Because of the magnitude of disaster possible when people are wrong and unprepared for being wrong. He hates the bell curve for massively misrepresent…moreBecause of the magnitude of disaster possible when people are wrong and unprepared for being wrong. He hates the bell curve for massively misrepresenting real risk potentials.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.95  · 
Rating details
 ·  94,751 ratings  ·  5,688 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
Apr 19, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Zach
Recommended to Aaron by: Zach
This is a book that raises a number of very important questions, but chief among them is definitely the question of how the interplay between a good idea and an insufferable author combine to effect the reading experience?

This author is an a-hole. Full stop. He's dismissive, chronically insecure, unstructured and hostile towards his detractors. He engages in what may be the lowest form of rhetoric by pre-emptively attacking any critics (even before they've had the chance to come forward) as too
Jul 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book. And, to take a page from Taleb, anyone who doesn't think so is wrong.

No, no, there are a number of problems with the book. A bit bloated, a bit repetitive. And NNT does make the misstep every once and a while. To take a very small instance, Taleb bases a short section of the book upon the idea that to be "hardened by the Gulag" means to become "harder" or "stronger" rather than its true meaning of someone who has become inured to certain difficulties, not necessarily strong
Jun 21, 2008 rated it liked it
I can summarize this book in two words: Shit happens.

Actually, I should be more fair since the author spent 300 pages laying out his beliefs and arguing his conclusions. The real summary of this book should be: Shit happens more often than you think.

The author, Taleb, rails against economics, most philosophers, and the way we incorporate news to allow us to make sense of events and everyday happenings. He wants us to unlearn the way we think and learn, while destroying the modern beliefs in stat
Oct 27, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
First, a disclaimer. I am, professionally, a statistician. I do not have a Ph.D. in my field because I feel that statisticians with Ph.D.'s are devoid of practicality and usefulness to the real world. I work at a factory where I assist engineers in better understanding how processes work and making things better. I generally feel that I make a worthwhile contribution to the world. I bought and read this book because it was critical of statisticians. I do not believe in surrounding myself with 'y ...more
Jan Rice
The first time through, I listened to this book with my husband, usually while I was cooking. Although I tried to stop and mark important passages, I ended up thinking the book was not very systematic. The second time through, chapter by chapter, the method in his madness is more apparent.

I continued to think Taleb is more a popularizer than an innovator. But even if so, that's not so shabby. He's trying to revolutionize the way we think, and the more we rehearse that, the better.

Nassim Nichol
Dec 21, 2007 rated it it was ok
This book has diminishing returns on the time spent reading it. Taleb's jeremiad is directed against - well - everyone who is not as enlightened as he is. I trudged through this book because - well - everyone is reading it and enlightened people should know how to comment on it. There, I did it. Now I can look down on all those people out there who aren't enlightened like Taleb. And now, me.

Taleb is actually on to something important if you can tolerate his self-importance enough to filter his v
Aug 23, 2008 rated it it was ok
I stopped reading this because the author is so pompous and annoying.
Taleb is a pretty good writer, but I thought this was a very uneven book. As I read it I was constantly alternating between "Wow, that's a really great insight, a great way of presenting it" and "Gee, who doesn't realize that?", or even "That just seems flat-out wrong".

It's a book that should have been read by the quantitative analysts ("quants") working for the hedge funds and investment banks in early 2008; but it probably wouldn't have made much difference in the financial melt-down that foll
Jul 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
This review will be comprised of two parts: a review of the ideas presented and a review of the way in which it is written

(A) The ideas

There is no question here, Taleb is an erudite and intelligent scholar. His take on epistomology and the scientific method breathe fresh air into the subject and gloss it with some 21st century context.

It would be difficult for me to overstate the importance of the black swan problem in modern life and the degree to which we are, as societies, unaware of its impa
Mar 08, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: shit
If you skipped your Systems, Statistics, or Random Variables classes in college, or if you think you know more than everyone else on Wall Street, then read this book. It will reaffirm what you already know. To the rest of you: this book will reaffirm what you thought you knew when you were 5 or 6...with an updated vocabulary.

I put this book down after the first chapter, but thought I would give it another chance, that I was being unfair. When I read the second chapter (which is a metaphor for w
Feb 21, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
This felt like it was trying to be the next The Tipping Point or Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything and just failed spectacularly, on all counts. Most importantly, perhaps, was that it was dull and a chore to read. In the little footnotes suggesting a chapter was unneccessary for a nontechnical reader and could be skipped (read: you are too dumb to understand this chapter, so don't even bother), like Chapter 15, I gladly took his advice because it meant one le ...more
Jan 25, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, humor
This book profoundly nasty and intellectually demented. Taleb a classic science denier; oscillating between anti-science and pseudo-intellectual arguments. When some 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 and crank red flags.

Special pleading.

Ignoring disconfirming evidence
Heidi The Reader
Nassim Nicholas Taleb discusses "black swans", unexpected and life-changing events, and how life is far more uncertain than most believe it to be. He also examines, in-depth, how we fool ourselves into believing reality is otherwise by various means like confirmation bias (we look for evidence to support our existing beliefs) and narrative fallacies (the tendency to describe existence using linear stories when reality is far more complicated).

Mix in a heaping dose of storytelling and autobiograp
Mar 18, 2009 rated it did not like it
A lot of blogs said a lot of nice things about this book, and from this I conclude that most of those bloggers either A) strictly read the executive summary or B) only read other bloggers. This is a pretty terrible book, and while it has one or two good ideas, they are better and more rigorously expressed in books like "Sway" or "The Drunkard's Walk" than they are in this shameless exercise in self promotion.

The fact that the author displays a limited understanding of the topic, and tends to lum
Feb 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Not as overbearingly arrogant as others claim; in fact, often very self depreciating.

More seriously, his writing style is terribly confusing, made worse by my own unfamiliarity with the subject and his insistence on personal jargon standing in for concepts. Very anectdotal as well as making use of "thought experiments" to illustrate concepts that could have done with more explanation and less story. Yes, I get his point that stories help us learn, but I would argue that stories work best as anal
Seema Singh
Sep 05, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I love reading and I rarely criticise authors. I think it takes discipline to complete a book and thus authors deserves respect. This review is my first negative one and hopefully my last. I buddy read this which was the only positive aspect. We read about a chapter a day and every time we discussed it, we would be at a loss for words. I heard such great reviews about this book highlighting that it was quite controversial. Generally i seek out anything controversial but this author is just a reb ...more
Mar 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: logic, mba, philosophy
Okay, let's see if I got it straight...

An anti-academic academic weaves a non-narrative narrative about predicting the unpredictable into the theory that rigid theories are bad.

Oh, and count on things you can't conceive of happening happening.

Something like that.

Taleb's observations on the expectations and biases we hold, especially when estimating risk or uncertainty, are pretty dead on.

His key practical point is about the need for a NON-parametric look at any situation in which low-probabilit
Sense of History
It has been more than two months since I read this book and only now I succeed in writing a review about what this book can mean for a historian. That says something about how difficult it is to separate the problematic aspects of this book (the arrogant and polemical tone) from the real content. Because Taleb does have something to say for those who look at the past.

For the sake of clarity, firstly his definition of Black Swans: these are unexpected events, both negative and positive, with a hu
Akash Nair
Black Swan is easily one of the most challenging books I have read. Reading it felt like being part of a revolution. Difficult to comprehend during the first reading, it attacks the application of the Gaussian bell curve in Modern Portfolio Management Theory viciously and having read it a lot recently, it makes me feel like a fool. The book is a treasure trove if you are a quizzer. Contains a hell lot of names(philosophers, economists, mathematicians..). Makes you think hard and gives you a lot ...more
Tanja Berg
Wall-banger at page 64. This might not be the final rating. I entertain the possibility of picking this up again, but at the moment I cannot bear the thought. The author is an annoying schmuck and that overshadows the concepts, which are quite interesting. You want to learn something useful within the same genre, pick up "Thinking, fast and slow" by Daniel Kahneman instead. ...more
May 18, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: tried-to-read
This book is a weird mix of novel ideas, bragging, and pseudo-science.

Taleb makes a strong case for his theory of black swans. It's an interesting and valuable theory but it's also one that could be communicated in a short conversation and does not need a whole book to contain it.

Taleb fills the rest of the pages by bragging about his own success and ridiculing established philosophers, economists, and anyone else he can think of. I'm not in any position to judge his opinions of these people, b
Riku Sayuj
Aug 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Landmark book for me as it pointed me to Chaos.
"As we travel more on this planet epidemics will be more acute--we will have a germ population dominated by a few numbers and the successful killer will spread vastly more effectively".

"September 11th was a black swan, this [Covid19] is a white swan"*.

I'm not sure I agree with Nassim. The Covid19 is globally massive, was predictable by some and, surely, "darker than Vantablack".

"Frustration that the pandemic we are living through was predictable and preventable,...”. Dominic Jermey of the
Dec 09, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Nerds
I only read the first 13 pages of this book, plus the prologue, but that was enough. In the first few pages he name-drops people like Umberto Eco and Nabokov, tells us about people who were rather unknown five years ago (but forgets to tell us that they are still rather unknown now), and compares himself to people in history who are/were actually influential. For a man who claims he is not writing an autobiography, he really works hard to impress the reader. He adds little bits of information in ...more
Adih Respati
Black Swan, huge-impact improbable events (the success of google, attack of 9/11, invention of internet), shows that social sciences fail to predict various events (behaviors inculuded) by,and so far by merely , usingGaussian "bell curve" approach. The use of mathematics in social sciences overestimates what we know (observed past events)and underestimates what we don't (probable future events): too little science papers succeeded to make (near) accurate predictions; and successful inventions ar ...more
May 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to admit that this book was a guilty pleasure, I really enjoyed it and some of the arguments presented on it are so interesting, but in general this is an uneven book, with a lot of generalizations that come out of nowhere and not so much intellectual background in elaborating its main thesis.
Jimmy Ele
Apr 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This book is like a nice cup of dark roasted coffee. A bit bitter for those who are unfamiliar with the Black Swan brand of uncertainty, yet disconcertingly alerting for those who have encountered this rare blend. The Black Swan glides through deep philosophical discussions and clever humor as effortlessly as its namesake. I was deeply enthralled by Nassim Nicholas Taleb's depth of erudition and wisdom concerning the philosophy of uncertainty.

The second edition of which I was privileged to read
Nov 29, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2007
Nassim Taleb's earlier book "Fooled by Randomness" was enormously successful - deservedly so, in my opinion. Unfortunately, this second book is a complete disappointment. Despite its length, it adds very little of interest to the material in the first book. Much of it is a rambling and indulgent rehash of ideas already developed adequately in the first book. If you are looking for fresh insight, spare your money.

Taleb is a very smart guy. In the first book, he wrote fluidly, clearly, without con
Aug 20, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Joyce DeWitt
Shelves: got-rid-of, economics

This book "just wrote itself," Taleb says early on. I believe him. Rarely do you read anything so rambling, bouncing from anecdote to anecdote, with such wack-ass headings: Saw Another Red Mini! / Information is Bad for Knowledge / Don't Cross a River if It Is (on Average) Four Feet Deep / How to Look for Bird Poop / How Not to Be a Nerd / How Coffee Drinking Can Be Safe. On the internet this is called clickbait, and once you've clicked and realized how shallow the resulting story is, or how it
Mar 23, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is hyper-interesting, very rich but also super-annoying at the same time. So much has been written about it, that I am going to limit myself to some essentials. This book is about the absolutely unexpected, the black swan you would never suspect if you only saw white swans all your life. Taleb, of course, refers to numerous historical examples of things that have come completely out of the blue: the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nine-eleven, major stock market crises and so on. And of ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Thinking, Fast and Slow
  • What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars
  • The (Mis)Behavior of Markets
  • Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
  • Principles: Life and Work
  • Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
  • Liar's Poker
  • Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow
  • The Intelligent Investor
  • The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
  • Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt
  • Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
  • When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management
  • SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
  • Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics
  • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
  • Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It
See similar books…
See top shelves…
Nassim Nicholas Taleb spent 21 years as a risk taker (quantitative trader) before becoming a flaneur and researcher in philosophical, mathematical and (mostly) practical problems with probability. 

Taleb is the author of a multivolume essay, the Incerto (The Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness, Antifragile, and Skin in the Game) an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human erro

Other books in the series

Incerto (5 books)
  • Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets
  • The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms
  • Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
  • Skin in the Game: The Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life

Related Articles

  Luvvie Ajayi Jones—author, cultural critic, digital entrepreneur—might be best described as a professional truthteller. Her crazily popular...
53 likes · 0 comments
“The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore, professore dottore Eco, what a library you have ! How many of these books have you read?” and the others - a very small minority - who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you don’t know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menancingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.” 405 likes
“Missing a train is only painful if you run after it! Likewise, not matching the idea of success others expect from you is only painful if that’s what you are seeking.” 281 likes
More quotes…