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Someone posted about this book in Central Library a while ago. I would move the message to a more appropriate forum, if I knew which one to choose.

When you folk have read it, could you let me know where you think it belongs, please?

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How are people getting on with this? I think I am going to struggle with some of the concepts, even though the writing style seems determined to keep it as simple as possible. I like the lines about the library on the first page of Part One.

The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow 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 menacingly.

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I was engaged by the first part of the book. He writes in a very conversational way even though the concepts he's communicating are hard to get your head around. It's been nearly two weeks since I finished it the ideas it carried are still popping around my skull making me approach certain things (problems, situations, people) differently.

 

A piece of advice: If you're struggling with the first two parts, part three will be a dead loss, he even advises people without a special interest in the subject matter to skip some chapters. Having said that I persevered and found some parts interesting.

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I too am finding it difficult. I'm reading it in between epic sessions with The Children's War and it's hardly light relief! I do feel that to a certain extent he's stating the flipping obvious and he's starting to annoy me a bit by being so repetitive. Having said that I'm not very far in yet and am looking forward to giving it some proper time once I've broken up.

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I just hope enough of us make it through to have a decent enough discussion about it - after all I guess that's what Penguin are looking for and will ensure that Bill gets offered many more.

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I don't think "struggling" is the right word, but I'm finding it a book that needs concentrating on, and so it might take me some time to read it. Though I would like to read enough of it soon to start some serious discussion. As others have said, I'm sure everyone involved would like to see lots of talking about it.

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I was a little reluctant to have a look at this thread as I was worried that I would be the only one who wasn't finding it the easiest of reads. I can now see, with some relief, that I am not alone.

I find that I tend to pick up alternative reads much more often than I do the Black Swan, perhaps this is the problem. Maybe I should leave other books alone until I have engaged with this one.

 

I will perservere as some of you also are but I can't see me getting through it too quickly :(

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I haven't finished yet but I'm still enjoying it and I've decided that I like the author a lot. In today's Independent Books, the editor has written a piece about how Harry Potter is the biggest Black Swan of all.

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That was a really interesting article, thanks Jen, and of course much more interesting having read NNT's book. I also agree that NNT is a very likable author.

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The Black Swan is about the randomness of life and the follies of prediction. According to the blurb it is 'a rallying cry to ignore the "experts" . . . to stop trying to predict everything and take advantage of uncertainty.' It asks such provocative questions as 'Why are almost all forecasters con-artists?'

 

In other words this book delights in stirring up controversy and that's one good reason for buying and reading it. We think - or like to think - the world is made for us, but we are wrong. A Copernican revolution has shown us how wrong we are, yet it is difficult for us to come to terms with randomness. This book will make you think about thinking, about our everyday misconceptions and prejudices to which we cling like lifebelts on a storm-tossed sea. Many of us still believe in astrology, despite science, others believe in science, although its proofs are often shaky, others vow by statistics. Taleb sends them all up - especially advocates of the bell-shaped curve, based on statistics. I had an aunt who knew that her husband caught a cold because he answered the door without putting on his hat. You can't argue with people like that who put such faith in cause and effect.

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I just took a look at Elder Son's intermittent online diary/blog and found a new entry:

The Black Swan

I (finally) finished reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

 

It has taken me an inordinate amount of time to read - I was given it for Christmas 2007. The reason it has taken so long is that I put it down and read 2 other books instead, then read nothing much at all for 6 months, then read it very very slowly, maybe 1 chapter at a time. The reason for this is that the authors style grates. When I first started reading it it made me feel like I was being conned. Reading it was hard work, not fun, an intellectual challenge. Not because it was an especially complex topic, but because i felt like I was being fooled some how. So I stopped reading it.

 

But then the financial crisis hit. And who's name kept popping up? Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The man who's book I had put down, was the man who predicted the crisis.

 

So I picked the book back up. It was still hard work, and I read it still with my scepticism turned up to 11. But I read it. And I am glad I did. It was hard work, but it was worth the effort.

 

I get it.

 

He has a good point.

 

But he still writes like a con-man, name dropping, and talking himself up every chance he gets. Oh boy does Mr Taleb love himself. He berates the narrative fallacy, and uses it extensively. It is annoying.

 

But underneath the self congratulatory, name dropping narrative is a sold criticism of the way we as a society deal with risk.

 

Worth reading, but borrow, don't buy.

 

I was the person who gave it to him - after reading the comments here.

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It would appear from my reading around that Taleb's previous book, Fooled By Randomness, had a lot going for it, and that this one is nothing more than a cheap spin-off. To give you an idea of what it consists of, here's an excerpt from "Living In The Antechamber Of Hope", chapter 7 of The Black Swan (the words in bold type in the middle are the title of a sub-subsection within a subsection, itself entitled "Peer Cruelty"...):

Believe me, it is tough to deal with the social consequences of the appearance of continuous failure. We are social animals; hell is other people.

 

Where the Relevant is the Sensational

 

Our intuitions are not cut out for nonlinearities.

If that short excerpt gives you the impression that The Black Swan does a good line in non sequiturs, then I've suceeded in giving you a flavour of the book. I also deliberately included the last sentence to show how appallingly approximate Taleb's English is: we say that somebody is (or is not) cut out for something, but never something. Basically, that last sentence is meaningless.

 

To put it very simply, "black swans" are random occurrences that take people by surprise and which cannot be predicted. They are what has elsewhere been referred to as unknown unknowns. Taleb establishes that on the very first page of the book. He then devotes another three hundred pages to the fact that life is more unpredictable than we tend to think, and that we tend to simplify things without realising that they are in fact very complicated.

 

But of course such remarks are not earth-shatteringly new, and have been formulated rather more succinctly by others:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

OK, occasionally Taleb makes a simple, valid point: it is doubtless salutary to remember that "Most terrorists are Moslems" does not imply that "Most Moslems are terrorists". But on the whole The Black Swan is little more than a tedious series of anecdotes and digressions. The overall structure of the book is incomprehensible, and the lengthy in-your-face bibliography looks like one that has been copied and pasted.

 

But by far the most irritating thing of all is the sheer twattish arrogance of the writer, as shown in bits like this:

I remember in my early trading days, at age twenty-five or so, when money was starting to become easy. I would take taxis, and if the driver spoke skeletal English and looked particularly depressed, I'd give him a $100 bill as a tip, just to give him a little jolt and get a kick out of his surprise. I'd watch him unfold the bill and look at it with some degree of consternation ($1 million certainly would have been better but it was not within my means). It was also a simple hedonic experiment: it felt elevating to make somebody's day with the trifle of $100.

(And what if the driver hadn't spoken skeletal English? Wouldn't he have known what a $100 bill was?)

 

Verdict: pseudo-science + pseudo-philosophy = opinionated bilge

 

*/*****

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Taleb attacks man's complacency - that he knows or can know anything for certain. Some of his anecdotes are amusing, as well as being illustrative. Is it the tone that grates or that he is saying nothing new at length? If the latter then he is in good company.

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Is it the tone that grates or that he is saying nothing new at length?
Both.

Plus the fact that he is such an obvious tosser.

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