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Skin in the Game

Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life
Written by: Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Narrated by: Joe Ochman
Length: 8 hrs and 20 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (135 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Number-one New York Times best seller

A bold work from the author of The Black Swan that challenges many of our long-held beliefs about risk and reward, politics and religion, finance and personal responsibility.

In his most provocative and practical book yet, one of the foremost thinkers of our time redefines what it means to understand the world, succeed in a profession, contribute to a fair and just society, detect nonsense, and influence others. Citing examples ranging from Hammurabi to Seneca, Antaeus the Giant to Donald Trump, Nassim Nicholas Taleb shows how the willingness to accept one's own risks is an essential attribute of heroes, saints, and flourishing people in all walks of life. 

As always both accessible and iconoclastic, Taleb challenges long-held beliefs about the values of those who spearhead military interventions, make financial investments, and propagate religious faiths. Among his insights: 

  • For social justice, focus on symmetry and risk sharing. You cannot make profits and transfer the risks to others, as bankers and large corporations do. You cannot get rich without owning your own risk and paying for your own losses. Forcing skin in the game corrects this asymmetry better than thousands of laws and regulations. 
  • Ethical rules aren't universal. You're part of a group larger than you, but it's still smaller than humanity in general. 
  • Minorities, not majorities, run the world. The world is not run by consensus but by stubborn minorities asymmetrically imposing their tastes and ethics on others. 
  • You can be an intellectual yet still be an idiot. "Educated philistines" have been wrong on everything from Stalinism to Iraq to low carb diets. 
  • Beware of complicated solutions (that someone was paid to find). A simple barbell can build muscle better than expensive new machines. 
  • True religion is commitment, not just faith. How much you believe in something is manifested only by what you’re willing to risk for it.

The phrase "skin in the game" is one we have often heard but have rarely stopped to truly dissect. It is the backbone of risk management, but it's also an astonishingly rich worldview that, as Taleb shows in this book, applies to all aspects of our lives. As Taleb says, "The symmetry of skin in the game is a simple rule that's necessary for fairness and justice and the ultimate BS-buster," and "Never trust anyone who doesn't have skin in the game. Without it, fools and crooks will benefit, and their mistakes will never come back to haunt them." 

©2018 Nassim Nicholas Taleb (P)2018 Random House Audio

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Decent but scattershot

There are a lot of decent points but the guy seems to have no editor. He is still talking about what he's going to talk about in the book almost halfway through the book. I thought for a second I bought an ad for the book by accident instead of the actual book.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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An interesting rant

While presenting some ideas convincingly, this essay sounds like a long rant or stream-of-consciousness writing that, infuriatingly, lacks rigour in both its central claims, as well as around the edges.

If, according to the author, the only thing we can learn from, say, professors, is how to be one - does it not also follow that we've only learned how to write like the author? Broad claims are easy targets; I've only picked one at random.

12 of 15 people found this review helpful

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important book

lessons for life, dense, worth every word, not what you want to hear yet what you should hear

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A great independent thinker!

Nassim's books are always a breath of fresh perspective! Well written, interesting, always a tad controversial and adversarial!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

Bloated

I guess you have to make a book but the length was padded with a lot of insults to his peers.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Great book, narrator's tone a bit too much

Love the book and content, however the narrator is very irritating, I feel like I'm being patronized for hours at a time.

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A long rant

Some interesting perspectives and new ideas. Uses a lot of pretentious academic words to insult and belittle others ideas and points of views. Overall a long rant. The first few pages are the most interesting.

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Low signal-to-bloviation ratio, but still worth it

As per usual, NNT writes a book with real nuggets of gold hidden in between reams of bloviation and denouncement of people that are not acceptable to him.
If you're well practiced at separating an author's philosophy and personal biases from the information they're laying out, I would highly recommend this book. (or if you're a libertarian, in which case you'll probably agree with the spiteful parts anyway)
If you have a harder time with that, stay away.

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Harshly read

The narration is harsh, the concept quickly understood, and well illustrated. Perhaps a bit too ruthless

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"Heads I Win, Tails it is Black Swan!"

This book consists mostly about medium length articles that has something to do with the title "Skin in the Game". It reads more like a rant than a meticulously written book, which Taleb detests. The contents are top-notch. It is both insulting and brilliant at the same time.

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  • Jeremy
  • 2018-03-11

Brilliance smothered by Condescension and Petty Squabbling

I’ve enjoyed and applies Taleb’s insights for years, but this book was so infused with petty arguments and dismissive quips that it was difficult to pull anything useful from it. The author uncharacteristically wandered off topic so often that trying to reconstruct his arguments almost took more effort than the insight seemed worth. I think there were some pretty significant insights (“don’t confuse data for mathematical rigor” for example). But the book as a whole was so condescending and vitriolic to anyone who disagreed with the author about his past ideas, which is strange coming from someone who preaches such a stoic view of things. I think the author had some very important ideas, but it will take serious work to find them if you aren’t interested in taking the author’s side in all the flame wars he’s either started or been dragged into.

116 of 125 people found this review helpful

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  • Jeremy Teeter
  • 2018-03-03

The expansion pack to Antifragile

If you've never read Taleb before, pass on this book for now and go read Fooled by Randomness or The Black Swan. This book, while fascinating to long time Taleb fans, is more preaching to the choir, and so he skips a lot of he lead up and background discussions that had been part of the backbone of his other books. I valued the discussion of minority rule and the concept of an absorbing barrier applied to financial ruin, and the authors use of unreliable narratives was entertaining as always. That said, the ideas in this book are minor points compared to his other works, and I found myself wishing he had waited another year or two to continue fleshing out the ideas in this book to allow it to be up to the same standards of his other works.

102 of 111 people found this review helpful

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  • Larry C
  • 2018-03-14

Didn’t care for this one.

I loved the other three books but this one seemed to be mainly an opportunity to vent for the author. Way too much belittling of others and more “I”s than I think I have ever read in a book that was not an autobiography.

30 of 33 people found this review helpful

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  • Hessa Al-thani
  • 2018-06-22

Better off read than heard

There's a lot in here that should be read over and mulled over to fully appreciate the author's message. I stopped half way because I'd much rather read it and carefully consider the author's conjectures rather than taking them for granted. I gave the performance a 2 because there were times when the reader added his own tone to the text.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Scott H
  • 2018-03-02

Taleb's snobbery and condescension @ all time high

For someone who rails against critics breaking his principle of charity in not using straw man arguments against his main points, he sure does it himself an awful lot. For example, he uses Richard Thaler's self deprecating story about enjoying a tie his wife bought him when he wouldn't have bought it himself as proof of what an idiot Thaler is. Thaler feels this mental accounting is irrational and Taleb does not. I'm inclined to lean toward what I take to be Taleb's argument that the term 'irrational' is overplayed and does not really describe what is happening in a lot of the behavioral economics studies but to just dismiss the whole field as bunk goes much too far. That is where his ideas about heuristics that he uses to criticize Richard Dawkins come from after all. I bet Dawkins would even concede the point that an outfielder is using heuristics rather than subconsciously doing differential equations to anticipate where to go as he originally wrote decades ago.

Taleb makes some good points but he always overplays his hand and portrays himself and a very small handful of his heroes who 'have skin in the game' as the only people in the world who have contributed anything worthwhile.

Some of the things I liked:
-His points about vocal minorites having large impact on public policy or commerce e.g., kosher foods, non-gmo foods, smoking in restaurants.
-Don't tell me what you think, tell me what's in your portfolio. All that really matters is our actions- not our opinions.

I would give this another star but I'm so turned off by his self aggrandizement and unwarranted dismissal of every scientist, school teacher, public servant, and 9-5 employee that I can't do it.

100 of 116 people found this review helpful

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  • Alex
  • 2018-05-17

some interesting stuff in here

for example, defining rationality in terms of behaviors not beliefs. And businesses that are succesfull are by definition not stupid.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • SelfishWizard
  • 2018-03-18

All the Arrogance, Anger and Bile you can Eat!

Taleb interrupts the flow of his work (such as it is) to rant throughout against Michelin starred restaurants, "idiot intellectuals", suit and tie executives, journalists, scientists, academics, genetically modified food (go figure) and in fact pretty much all food other than pizza (made with fresh ingredients) and hamburgers.

He prefers weightlifters to professors and almost anything to Stephen Pinker. He dislikes any and all who aren't what he considers to be traders and risk takers. Gym equipment other than bar bells and sommeliers come in for his especial ire. But he likes brutish looking inarticulate doctors. The non brutish amongst us he considers to be effete and impudent snobs offering comments on matters on which they have no skin in the game. It is hard to see what "skin" Taleb actually has in this irritable list of things he doesn't like.

The book feels like it was dashed off after too many beers on the way to a barroom brawl.
But Taleb obviously delights in his angry skewering of the rest of the world. Somehow he sells this stuff "to the Swiss" (his trading term for the average faceless sucker), so more power to him for developing a business plan and finding a paying audience for his bile.

39 of 49 people found this review helpful

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  • N.F.
  • 2018-03-08

Parting ways with Taleb

I enjoyed previous works by Taleb like Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan. However, I couldn't stand this one. It is so full of derision against anyone who is not exactly like him, so full of his many personal vendettas that is incoherent.
He skips from subject to subject with little logic, and covers subject rather superficially. He arrogantly dismisses scientists, doctors, economists and then goes on to peddle what are basically conspiracy theories. Then he goes on to raise on a pedestal "ancient wisdom". I almost had the feeling that he would advocate spitting at black cat like my grandmother because it is wisdom that survived, unlike taking statins which is new science.
In conclusion, if I met Taleb, I would suggest he took a nice long look at the mirror. He might recognise one of his "Intellectual Yet Idiot"s there.

45 of 57 people found this review helpful

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  • Ramiro Torres
  • 2018-05-05

Great Summation of lost Accountability.

succinct discourse on the hidden art of accountability linking inter-relational action/inaction in our Societal stagnation/progress

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Nicholas E. Ertz
  • 2018-04-21

Asymmetries be damned.

Taleb will make you think. He may also make you yell at the window and kick the dog. He brooks no half-hearted response. In this epistle, we hear him remind us to trust no one who gives advice and has no "skin in the game". What is their risk? This is part of the series that includes Black Swan. Read it. (My skin is that you will think me a fool if I'm wrong.)

2 of 2 people found this review helpful