Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Krey20

The Black Swan - General Discussion

Recommended Posts

I finished this book about two weeks ago now. It's taken me this long to gather my thoughts enough to begin making comments. Generally I don't read much non-fiction, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I certainly didn't expect to still be thinking about some of the ideas so long after completing it.
I was surprised by the conversational, easy style that Nassim Nicholas Taleb (or NNT) displayed. Some of the ideas he was trying to explain were quite conceptual, but were explained in a way that I found agreeable. It challenged my thinking; I understood his points and most importantly never felt like the author was talking down to me. This was something that I was secretly expecting. The inclusion of citing some of his personal history to expand on points helped a lot too. It gave a bit of personality to what always threatened to be an essay-style piece of writing.

I'll begin with my biggest problem with the book:
Essentially it is a 300 page book trying to explain that the world is a random place. Strange things happen, and it is impossible to predict the future.
Am I the only person to think this is bordering on common sense?

The realisation of that simple truth came after pondering the text for a while. It wasn't a revelation, and it didn't make me regret reading it, in fact it seemed to enforce the general ideas NNT's philosophies.
There should be some great discussion arising from this book. There are so many little truths explained that seem simple enough but are ignored in general life.
For example:
• Is it better to be someone who assumes they know everything or someone who knows they know hardly anything?
• How can we be sure of history without considering what hasn't been recorded?
I found this part especially interesting. I had never given much thought that history in general might be wrong, or that massive assumptions might be made from unreliable evidence.
• Concerning newspapers and informational media, it is important to consider what isn't being said rather than concentrating on what is being told. I think this is a vitally important realisation. I have always distanced myself from newspapers, considering them to be full of hateful scare mongering. Any information being retold is bound to be tainted by the teller’s agenda (maybe you should consider if I have an agenda writing this review? ;) ).
• The pointlessness of trying to predict the future by studying the past. There are many things you can learn by studying what has happened in the past (depending on the quality of your sources) but it is hopeless to believe that you can extrapolate that information into the unknown future.

I feel that religion was sidestepped all of the way thought this book. I would be interested to know if NNT is a religious man. I would assume that some of his philosophies would be limited by a firm belief system. What do you think?
Personally I have no firm beliefs, so the idea that the world is a wildly random place, a place that is so large and complex that things like luck and fate can be put down to coincidence by sheer scale, is a comfort to me. I find the idea that we exist by sheer chance is wonderful. To others it might be quite scary to think that they have no way of knowing what might happen to them. But, surely it is a delusion to think otherwise?

The only other grumble I have is when NNT began plying his ideas into a specialised field in the third section of the book. It was necessary to do this to dispel the infamous bell-curve, but I preferred the generality of the first two sections. The third section is a slog, so much so that he actually asks you to skip it if you think it will be of no use to you. I persevered and found the parts about the people he admired quite enjoyable.

To finish I'll say that I haven't read a book that has made me analyse and think so much before. It has changed the way I think about certain things and it's made me more comfortable to feel a bit confused about the world. Recently a friend asked me what I believed in? Did I believe in God? I happily replied, “I didn't know”. My friend then asked me why I smiled when I said that.

The final thoughts in the book summed up the entire philosophy wonderfully. “You should only feel annoyed when missing a train if you made the effort to chase after it.”

To me, this book is all about embracing the randomness of the world and taking control of your place in it.

I can't wait to read all of your thoughts. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was surprised by the conversational, easy style that Nassim Nicholas Taleb (or NNT) displayed. Some of the ideas he was trying to explain were quite conceptual, but were explained in a way that I found agreeable. It challenged my thinking; I understood his points and most importantly never felt like the author was talking down to me. This was something that I was secretly expecting.

 

I am nearly finished Krey20. I completely agree with all that you have said above. I completely expected this book to be heavy on the science and heavy on the philosophy, but it isn't at all. NNT writes with a very conversational style, ironic, amusing, and self-deprecating. I even laughed out loud occasionally. He tries his best to normalise a lot of the heavier concepts and make them relate to ideas and experiences we all share. I found myself understanding concepts that could easily have gone over my head.

 

Essentially it is a 300 page book trying to explain that the world is a random place. Strange things happen, and it is impossible to predict the future.

Am I the only person to think this is bordering on common sense?

 

Again, I agree, but he did spend a lot of the book telling you how he came to this point and what other theories led him to it.

 

Is it better to be someone who assumes they know everything or someone who knows they know hardly anything?

 

I liked that, especially Eco's library thing, that the more you know and read the more books you will have unread on your bookshelf. I would love to be the latter, but I have been guilty of the former!

 

I had never given much thought that history in general might be wrong, or that massive assumptions might be made from unreliable evidence.

• Concerning newspapers and informational media, it is important to consider what isn't being said rather than concentrating on what is being told. I think this is a vitally important realisation. I have always distanced myself from newspapers, considering them to be full of hateful scare mongering. Any information being retold is bound to be tainted by the teller’s agenda

 

That, is just common sense, and didn't really strike me as striking realisation. Especially in todays climate of medical scares, food scares, crime scares, climate change etc.

 

I feel that religion was sidestepped all of the way thought this book. I would be interested to know if NNT is a religious man. I would assume that some of his philosophies would be limited by a firm belief system.

 

I think his philosophies are his belief system. He does talk about from an early age being gripped by these thoughts, and he doesn't seem to have pursued any other line. His history is punctuated by him reading books that fed and influenced his thinking.

 

The grumble I would have is that he does tend to belabour a point. In understand that he is trying to make complex concepts accessible to the common man - which he does admirably - but I found myself skipping big sections of anecdote once I understand a concept. In think the book could have been a lot shorter and more succinct - but then would I have understood him quite as easily? I don't know. All I know is I skipped big chunks that I didn't feel were necessary.

 

I am not finished so, I don't have any final thoughts yet, but I will say I hate reading philosophy - it makes me think too much! ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thought I might bump this to see if there were any more thoughts. I still find myself thinking about some of the ideas in this book a good month after finishing it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

  • Similar Content

    • By Flingo
      Rescued Thread When Bill has caught up with some things, please can we have the forum for this back, and then get it moved? Cheers!



      Flingo 8th June 2006 11:06 PM

      I thought in Bill's absense we could start a couple of threads about Holes here and have the discussion that so many people are keen to do before we forget what we want to say. It should be able to be moved once the new board is open, shouldn't it?

      So what are people's first impressions? I know some people have finished it - but please remember anyone could call in here, so spoiler if necessary!

      I really enjoyed Holes. My children's librarian mentor has been urging me to read this for ages but I had never got round to it, and am now really disappointed that I left it so long!

      It's really clever, although it takes a bit to understand where all the threads of the story are going.

      The writing is so easy to read, and you feel drawn in almost immediately. I could felt the heat of Camp Green Lake radiating out of the book - a huge acheivement!



      megustaleer 8th June 2006 11:34 PM

      I read it some years ago, and loved it. I really don't know why it has not been a bigger hit as a 'crossover' book. I thought that the way all those plot threads were neatly tied up was just so satisfying, and so clever!

      Have just checked my reading list, and it is six years since I read it, and I can still remember quite a lot of it; it really made an impression!



      katrina 9th June 2006 06:02 PM

      Hey, this is my second read of this book in a year, as I had to read it at the start of my PGCE course, its a really popular keystage 3 yext. I prefered it this time around, the first time I was annoyed by it, but I can't remember why now.

      Thought the writing was good, and the sense of the lake and the heat were well depicted.



      Momo 9th June 2006 06:20 PM

      I can well imagine that it's six years since Meg read it. My oldest son read it when he was a year younger than my youngest one is now and he is five years older. It had just come out otherwise he would have done it earlier as my younger one has.
      Anyway, even though both my boys had read it, I never did so myself. Somehow it always seemed like a book for little boys. So, I was pleasantly surprised when it wasn't that at all. (We even have the DVD and I never watched that either!)
      I will recommend this book to anyone. It's a quick read, yet very interesting and there is a lot in this. More than last month's read.



      katrina 10th June 2006 08:30 AM

      I was wondering if anybody had watched the film version of the book, if I have time this week I'm going to borrow it from school and take a peak at it, I've heard its quite a good adaptation



      Flingo 10th June 2006 10:45 AM

      I picked it up on Wednesday, and will be watching it tomorrow.

      I think we ought to have a thread about the film in this section, so that we can discuss comparisons and similarities? Whoever watches it first can start that!



      megustaleer 16th June 2006 08:56 AM

      belweb says on another thread that she thought the plot was full of holes! I beg to differ! The thing that I like about this book is that there are no 'holes', everything is all neatly sewn up at the end!

      Admittedly a lot of the connections are contrived, but I thought that was part of the humour of the book. My reactions were along the lines of 'Well I Never!! and 'Who'd've Thought It!' , and I thought it was all very cleverly brought to a satisfying (if not necessarily satisfactory) conclusion.

      I wouldn't have accepted the neat conclusion in a serious adult novel, but 'Horses for Courses', eh? And there's plenty of food for thought in there, too.

      The book probably suffered from being read in the middle of reading for an Eng. Lit. degree. I'm sure it wouldn't stand comparison to the other books occupying belwebb's thoughts.



      Momo 16th June 2006 01:45 PM

      I don't know either what kind of holes belwebb saw in this novel. As Meg already mentions, and we all should consider this, this is a children's book. We cannot expect deep meanings that you will only understand after studying English Lit.



      belwebb 16th June 2006 05:28 PM
       
       
       
      Yes, you've made some valid points. However, when you say 'contrived' I think that's the word I should have used - it was incredibly contrived, but then, like you say, I was in the middle of an English lit course!



      elfstar 16th June 2006 06:38 PM

      I enjoyed this book, it had a nice 'roundness' to it,there was no unhappy or unresolvesd ending for the protagonist, the characters were not as deep as they could have been but it is a childrens book and a such it was very acceptable



      donnae 19th June 2006 11:17 PM

      I really enjoyed this book. I loved how the story of the past was neatly interlinked with Stanley's story. Contrived maybe, but very enjoyable still. At least it ties up a lot more ends than last month's read!
       


      As this was a children's story, I liked the manner in which the anti-racialism was dealt with, not too heavy-handed. There were some obvious morals going on in the book, but they didn't overshadow the story.

      There is a sequel to Holes called Small Steps. This follows the lives of Armpit and Xray.

      Holes is a book I will be encouraging my children to read - I think they will all enjoy it. One of my daughters has watched the film and enjoyed it. Flingo, have you watched it yet?



      Adrian 20th June 2006 01:50 AM

      I was thinking the same thing, donnae. It's pretty obvious when you read it.



      megustaleer 20th June 2006 09:34 PM

      Because it is a children's book, and apparantly a straightforward account of Stanley's misadventures, perhaps there is a tendency to whiz through it without picking up the clues?

      Once you know how it all fits together, of course, a lot of it was clearly hinted at in advance.

      Hindsight's a wonderful thing!



      Adrian 20th June 2006 09:52 PM

      I certainly did that, not giving the book its due respect and racing through it. I'll have to re-read it, or maybe listen to the audio version.



      Flingo 23rd June 2006 08:47 PM
       
      I did watch it - though it was really nicely done. Louis Sachar actually wrote the screenplay, which I think helped keeping it true to the book.

      Recommend watching it if you enjoyed the book.
       
    • By Adrian
      This is for people who have read just the first few chapters. If you haven't yet, reading the following will be a spoiler.





      I watched the R&J review and have bought the book. So far I'm maybe a dozen pages into it.

      I'm not loving the double first-person narrative. It reminds me of Kevin Sampson's Outlaws, where the same story is told from multiple viewpoints. I find it just detracts from the story, and makes the book feel a bit gimmicky. Maybe it'll grow on me as I read more, and it certainly won't stop me reading it.

      Secondly, I'm not yet buying into this "Chrono-Displacement Disorder" plot device. It's too Sci-Fi for my liking, and just too "handy" for the author: "I need to have the guy time travel, so here's how I've made it happen." I'm hoping it's resolved later on. If it's a premise I have to swallow just so the book could be written I'll be disappointed.

      As you might have guessed, I'm not wholly convinced just yet.

      What's your first impressions of the book?
    • By Adrian
      I'm about halfway through (he's spending Christmas with her family and has just found out her Mum's a manic depressive - and after reading this book, love, so am I), and unless I get I get some positive feedback here, I'm giving up.

      I posted my first impressions earlier, and I'm afraid it's getting worse.

      Firstly it didn't grab me from the start and I read other books inbetween - always a bad sign. Still, I vowed to stick with it, and once I got past the awkward narrative structure it improved. The enforced double-narrative seemed a little contrived, and I felt whenever the authour switched voices in mid-scene Niffenegger was really forcing the change of voice to make it obvious it was now the other person narrating. Seemed a bit like Kevin Samson writing in Outlaws, where each narrator gets his own unique voice.

      Secondly, the basic premise of the novel, time travel, is mishandled and cack-handedly written. Two versions of himself in the same time frame? (Believe me ladies, if we could do that to ourselves the human race would be extinct). Some evolutionary mishap in the human genome being allowed to rewrite the laws of physics? Those I could live with, but TTW is just an affront to basic common sense. I keep asking myself questions instead of losing myself in the book. Why just appear now? Why just disappear now? More important is the where? How does he go to a particular place as well a particular time?

      Also, the nastiness of the bloke: "I can't help myself so I can do whatever I like." Beat people up? Sure! Rob and steal? Why not! Buy stocks cheap? Who wouldn't! Run naked through the neighbourhood? Well, I tried this, and the police would just not believe my story!

      Most importantly, I don't care about the love story. So he loves her and they love each other, and so forth. I find both of them so insufferable that I don't care about their relationship(s).

      I'm half-heartedly interested in the secondary goings on. I like Kimy, and I like Clare's room-mate, but can't stand the room-mate's boyfriend.

      My current thinking is, "This is not a book to tossed away lightly. It is to hurled with great force."

      I'd like either an incentive to finish it (bearing in mind I have a long list of others waiting on my TBR pile) or, preferably, a precis of the ending. I'm guessing she dies of some disease he can't prevent, and he knows it (of course he knows it, he just can't get involved in any ethical situation that would ruin the house-of-cards plot), but doesn't tell her.

      God, I hate them both. Hey Audrey, try going back in time before Stephen Fry wrote Making History.
    • By Mad Dog & Glory
      Having finally finished The Time Traveler's Wife last night (yes, I know, I'm a bit behind), I was left feeling a little dissatisfied. I loved it for around 200 pages, but then I thought it tailed off badly and left a lot of unanswered questions. Not only the time travel - I had no problems with suspending disbelief, although the most unbelievable part was that they were allowed to lead a 'normal' life, rather than Henry being captured and studied by the US government.

      It's the so-called 'normal' life that concerns me. It seems incredible that I could read a 500+ page novel centring almost exclusively on two characters, and at the end not really have much of an idea of each other's personalities or how they went about their daily lives. At one point, Henry buys a lottery ticket knowing the result and wins several million dollars, so Clare can have a studio. No other mention is made of this. So are they millionaires? They seem to live in normal-sized house, in a normal street. So what do they do with themselves when Henry isn't time travelling? They're not watching TV, as Henry can't. They can't spend all of their time in bed.

      The other huge problem with the novel is lack of conflict, which is essential to all drama. Henry and Clare have this 'perfect' relationship, and are only unhappy with each other over the miscarriages. There were all sorts of potential themes and conflicts that Niffenegger shied away from. Why does Clare never question the fact that this man came into her life at the age of 5 and, as they say, ruined her for other men?
      Niffenegger seems so intent on making this the perfect love story that she misses a lot of tricks.

      My guess is that Audrey Niffenegger will be a one-hit wonder. She came up with a brilliant idea, and also came up with a good structure (although some disagree), and played out every permutation of time travelling possible. But in the end a great idea can get you only so far, and I don't feel she has the skills as a novelist to get as much out of the story as was potentially there.
×
×
  • Create New...