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Selected for Wellesley Reads 2010
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 everything about our world, from the rise of religions to events in our own personal lives.
Why do we not acknowledge the phenomenon of black swans until after they occur? Part of the answer, according to Taleb, is that humans are hardwired to learn specifics when they should be focused on generalities. We concentrate on things we already know and time and time again fail to take into consideration what we don’t know. We are, therefore, unable to truly estimate opportunities, too vulnerable to the impulse to simplify, narrate, and categorize, and not open enough to rewarding those who can imagine the “impossible.”
For years, Taleb has studied how we fool ourselves into thinking we know more than we actually do. We restrict our thinking to the irrelevant and inconsequential, while large events continue to surprise us and shape our world. Now, in this revelatory book, Taleb explains everything we know about what we don’t know. He offers surprisingly simple tricks for dealing with black swans and benefiting from them.
Elegant, startling, and universal in its applications The Black Swan will change the way you look at the world. Taleb is a vastly entertaining writer, with wit, irreverence, and unusual stories to tell. He has a polymathic command of subjects ranging from cognitive science to business to probability theory. The Black Swan is a landmark book–itself a black swan.
In this second edition, Taleb has added a new essay, On Robustness and Fragility, which offers tools to navigate and exploit a Black Swan world.
“Nassim Taleb challenges us, his readers, to be as fearless as he is in puncturing phony expertise and in confronting the severe limits on human knowledge of both past and future. Read this book to learn how to think about an awe-inspiringly capricious world–and maintain a reasonably good sense of humor about it all.”
–Philip E. Tetlock, University of California, Berkeley, and author of Expert Political Opinions
“A beautifully reflective and opinionated book, illustrated with Calvino-like fables, about the inevitable failure of attempts to reduce the complexity of the real world to simple black-and-white formulas.” –Emanuel Derman, author of My Life as a Quant
“The Black Swan changed my view of how the world works.”—Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate
“Hugely enjoyable—compelling . . . easy to dip into.”—Financial Times
“A masterpiece.”—Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail
“Idiosyncratically brilliant.”—Niall Ferguson, Los Angeles Times