Nina's Reviews > The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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U 50x66
's review
Dec 30, 2007

did not like it

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Reading Progress

December 30, 2007 – Shelved
Started Reading
January 1, 2008 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-42 of 42) (42 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Nina, it seems to me that you miss the way this book is more poetic than "exoteric" and you approach it too literally. He is a finance professional who had fun in an intellectual realm. Have you looked at his book Dynamic Hedging? He is primarily scientific in his base so his philosophical musings are really a jaunt into the areas of flexible thinking.

message 2: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Dec 05, 2008 10:59AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I haven't read this but I listened to a lengthy talk he gave on the book and felt very similarly about his ideas as you felt as shown through this review. Well said.

And as to the comment above: really? Poetic? Please! If that was his intent he should'v sat down and wrote haikus. But he didn't. I heard the man speak for 2 hours straight with a brand of undue smugness the likes of which I've rarely seen before and he was not speaking "poetically" about these ideas, he was quit literally trying to make serious points about the failures of everyone but himself and his financial expertise (which really doesn't translate into much else in terms of knowledge and wisdom) coupled with a pedestrian knowledge of the other subjects he seeks to destroy all masquerading as a serious critique of...well, nearly EVERYTHING.

Good review though, Nina.

Cathleen I completely agree with you. I have an MA in Economics from a heterodox school of thought. No where in this book did he say anything that was new to me, and I have yet to (I for one cannot bring myself to finish it) find any "original thought" , let along any sort of prophetic ideas. This guy totally bastardizes Plato, which shows how little he understand deductive logic to begin with. He is an empiricist who calls himself a critic, thereby negating his own methodologies.
Whoever said this book was poetic also makes me laugh out loud. Poetic! Where? And written in the second person too, how utterly annoying. I will give it to someone minus a few dollars for shipping?

Richard Pinnell Thanks for such an excellent review of this book. I only wish I'd read your review before I wasted my time on the book.

message 5: by Carol (last edited Aug 31, 2010 07:11AM) (new) - added it

Carol Neman Cathleen, are you seeking to pass along your copy? If so, email me at and we can arrange spite of the review, which by the way I thought was excellently in depth, I'd like to read about this guy's debaucheries myself. Then I'll post my own review...heh, heh, heh

message 6: by Cathleen (last edited Sep 01, 2010 08:57PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Cathleen Hi, Carol. I donated my copy to a bookstore shortly after writing the last comment. It was funny, the owner said he was currently reading "The White Swan".

message 7: by Carol (new) - added it

Carol Neman OK, just thought I'd ask...

Marc Lucke Thank you for saving me the need to write a review of this book: you summarized my feelings exactly. :)

message 9: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 01, 2012 04:45PM) (new)

Just started reading this and felt the uneasy feeling that I was wasting my time. As another review states clearly, s... happens. 'nuf said. This and other great reviews save me lots of time. I can move on with confidence. Glad it was a library loan.

I'm also in a scientific profession. If the point wasn't that "stuff happens", then Taleb should have gotten to the point MUCH sooner.

message 10: by Lev (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lev Deych The comments on this thread show that, quoting Yogi Berra, "there are people whom you cannot say unless they already know". I am sorry guys that you wasted your time on this book, which found quite inspiring and amusing. Being a member of a scientific profession used to deal with quantitative issues I found that the ideas Taleb expresses are quite profound. To summarize this book by saying "s-t happens" is to betray a sad fact that you, guys, missed most of it. I feel sorry for your loss.

Dasaleph I read part one. What he says could be said in considerably less space and he is a lot less witty than he thinks he is.
Reading other comments on the book it seems there is more of this to come in the other parts of the book which is to say not much substance and a lot of ranting. So I think I read enough.

message 12: by Chas (new) - rated it 1 star

Chas "Unbearable" - you hit the nail on the head. I don't usually write reviews but this book absolutely compelled me to.

Nina, you captured it more eloquently than I could so I will agree 100% with you - "a combination of his arrogance, insecurity, and laziness that makes this book unbearable.... This guy really needs to see a therapist and work out his insecurity issues before he tries to write another book."

Fantastic review.

message 13: by Merty (new) - rated it 1 star

Merty Ugh, I am reading this for bookclub! Why we chose it, is beyond me.

message 14: by Lynn (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lynn "It took a lot of willpower to not put this book down. "

I agree, but not necessarily with your following statements. It took alot of willpower for me NOT to put it down because it was getting too difficult to follow. You need to at least understand the technicalities and also have some inkling of the various references used.

You mention Taleb has no knowledge of stats, that is false. He's in fact a uni professor/trader who deals with stats his whole life. So in effect, negating all that he once taught/ worked with is actually self deprecating humour in a subtle way.

I don't actually like the book because its too heavy for the layman.

message 15: by Merty (new) - rated it 1 star

Merty I am almost done but alot of it is over my head. So I skim. Perhaps if I had taken some economics classes or statistics, some of this would make sense. Don't think this was a very wise choice for a bookclub book. Doubt if many of my bookclub members finished this or bought it. I'll keep you posted on the meeting.

message 16: by Mina (new) - added it

Mina I read your comment before I pick up this book. I got the book's title from my professor's recommend essays. Your comment is really interesting, it make me laugh! I'll judge all about this after I finish this book, or as you said, never. If its as dull as you said, I just lack the willpower to keep clam and carry on. Lol.

message 17: by Merty (new) - rated it 1 star

Merty It may be interesting if you are taking a course in Statistics and or Economics or even Business.

I thought this book would change the way I think but it did not.

Let us know, Mina, how you like the book when you are done.

message 18: by Drew (new) - rated it 1 star

Drew Anderson This review is absolutely spot-on. I'd like to add that, if he tried to tell a room full of information security researchers that it doesn't matter how random a number is, he'd be laughed out. I regret spending time on this train wreck and I don't often say that about my reading.

message 19: by Merty (new) - rated it 1 star

Merty This book did make for interesting discussion at our bookclub meeting. Most hated it, lol. He did have some interesting points to make but it's not a book that will linger in my mind.

message 20: by Merty (new) - rated it 1 star

Merty Someone mentioned that one only needs to read the first three chapters to capture the essence of the book. Don't attempt all the others.

message 21: by Vishnu (new)

Vishnu "Black swan" is lifted straight off Popper's example of a scientific statement. So not even that name is original. This guy indeed has issues.

message 22: by Amy (new)

Amy Lynn, sadly it is a common misconception that working with "stats" means you have an understanding of the field of statistics. However, most of the human race works with a subset of "stats" on a daily basis. It does not mean they know what the numbers and words really mean. And this guy? He thinks he understands statistics but is woefully mistaken.

message 23: by Ole (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ole Thijs You know, Nina, you're exactly the kind of critic Taleb is so arrogant about - and for good reason. Can you actually provide a refutation of his main points? For example, how mainstream academical economic theories have completely failed to predict major market events and are thus bogus? (Yes, the books words this strongly, and it also explains why - a theory that has been falsified is bogus. End of story.)

Keep yapping about how you percieve the author to be insecure all you want - as long as you are unable to provide any criticism that isn't woefully ad hominem or way too broad to amount to anything ('he should take an intro stat class', what does that even mean?), you'd be wiser not to talk at all.

message 24: by Tiffany (new) - added it

Tiffany Bravo!!!! I read part one and had none of the willpower you had & set it down... Now it will be down for probably forever after reading your well-executed review. Lol, and the comments after were all the nails in this book's coffin that I needed. I actually got my book from a friend who bought it at a used book rummage sale. He should have left it there.

Lawrence Carrington Just decided to give this one up before reading your review.
Not worth the effort to bear with the author's snobbishness and "look how smart I am" smart-assery

message 26: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee Coleman nice review.

Joseph Perfect review. I just stopped reading it after about a quarter way through. I was going to write a review based on that, but your analysis is sufficient.

message 28: by Rajesh (new)

Rajesh Shrestha

Rodrigo Elena Great review. I've just finished the book and only wish I read your words before even thinking of buying it.

Emilly I can't say it better. I'm not even sure how this book became best-seller?

Aashish Awesome review! if only i have came across your review before starting the book!

一丝不苟 Seriously? This book kicks ass

William Wow, I know this comment comes from your ignorance around and the subject and lack knowledge before reading this, but this comment is mostly foolish.

Suhas Thank you so much for the review. Half way through the book I realized that the book is just pointless rambling.

message 35: by Gpx (new) - added it

Gpx Totally agree with the comment on author's personality.

message 36: by Cee (new) - added it

Cee I always dismiss 'ad hominem ' attacks as impotent and pointless.
As I would agree that the arrogant tone is a symptom of impotent frustration with a destructive non think herd mentality".
But I would agree that the essence of the book is conveyed in the first chapters.

Daniel Bratell There is much in your review I agree with, but I think there is a more deep message in this book than you get in a first quick (if possible) read. Taleb is presenting himself as an obnoxious, arrogant and self-centered person but that does not mean he is all wrong.

I was lucky enough to read the second edition which includes some of the 5 page essays you asked for (unfortunately at the very end and not earlier) so he can be more terse, but he doesn't seem to want to.

Personally I would have liked much more mathematics and less lofty philosophy but I think Taleb wants to be remembered as a philosopher, not a economy theorist.

There were phases in the book where I would easily have put it down with a 1 or 2 star review, but in the end, I think this is one of those books that keep on affecting you for a long time, and that is why I summarized it with a higher grade.

Christine I gave it three stars because it forces the readers to think out of the box and adds to their vocabulary.

But I agree with you that the guy has a superiority complex and is full of himself. Whether or not his ideas are original, I don't know, I'm a layperson with a liberal arts background. BUT I do like his paranoid approach to mass media. The broader cross-section of information you consume, the better-informed you'll be, in my uninformed opinion. ;)

The book makes my waste-of-reading-time shelf. Wish I could've been reading something more entertaining.

message 39: by Marianne (new)

Marianne Trizha True enough. I think the book is all about the tale of Yevgenia Nikolayevna Krasnova, which is essentially him. Spent a huge portion of the day thinking how he got a publisher on this

message 40: by Marianne (new)

Marianne Trizha True enough. I think the book is all about the tale of Yevgenia Nikolayevna Krasnova, which is essentially him. Spent a huge portion of the day thinking how he got a publisher on this

Philipp Rouast Thank you for this review. Couldn't agree more!

Matthias Thanks for the review, I agree 100%. This guy is one of the biggest intellectual frauds around, and the amount of credit he gets leaves me speechless.
Everything he does is re-marketing well-known concepts as something he himself discovered/defined (creating a personal jargon in an attempt to make them sound new and as a rethorical trick to beat opponents in discussions) + something that can easily "destroy" entire disciplines... that is, the same disciplines that actually *introduced* and have already been discussing/analyzing/rejecting/absorbing those same concepts for years if not decades.

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