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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.”
Taleb is a vastly entertaining writer, with wit, irreverence, and a polymathic command of subjects ranging from cognitive science to business to probability theory. Elegant, startling, and universal in its applications, THE BLACK SWAN will change the way we look at the 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, author Expert Political Opinions
"A Masterpiece." —Art de Vany, U.C. Irvine, author Hollywood Economics
"Fascinating!" —Robert Shiller, Yale University, author Irrational Exuberance
"Reading The Black Swan is like experiencing the childhood fantasy of getting the keys to the kingdom … all of a sudden my entire world became crystal clear (or … all of a sudden, every aspect of the world made sense to me like never before) and I felt like I understood everything going on around me." —Bruce Goldberg, Gennentech