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

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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it was ok
bookshelves: 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 condescending to the reader. Unfortunately, this sequel does not manage to avoid a self-congratulatory smugness, which makes it less fun to read than the earlier book.

Recommendation: "Fooled by Randomness" is a book which should be read by everyone. Give "The Black Swan" a miss.
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Reading Progress

November 29, 2007 – Shelved
Started Reading
December 1, 2007 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 05, 2009 02:05PM) (new)

A coworker "let me borrow" this book (i.e., forced me to take it against my will). I read maybe thirty pages and was so irritated by the author's supercilious tone that I chucked it into a drawer. (The coworker has not yet asked for my opinion or the book's return. A year later.)

David Ginnie: The Nocera article was very interesting - thanks for the link. Though his paragraph about the normal distribution belongs in some kind of statistical hall of shame, the rest of the article was excellent.

When I hosted Taleb at work a few years ago, his ego was tending towards monstrous, but not yet out of control. Obviously, things have gotten worse since then - based on the quotes attributed to him in the article, he has made the transition to being a total assmarmot.

As I recall, he is someone who beat the odds on a particularly nasty (and very rare) type of cancer, which may account for some of his fascination with the extreme tail of the probability distribution. But his dismissal of the modelers is way out of line - it's almost impossible to get people, including statisticians, truly to internalize the limitations of any model, because of the way our brains are wired. Strictly speaking, the only rational response to Hurricane Katrina would be not to rebuild anything in New Orleans, but that's never going to happen. So he's really just sneering at human nature.

A pity, because the first book really was charming.

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