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The Black Swan, Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: With a new section: "On Robustness and Fragility"

Incerto, Book 2
Written by: Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Narrated by: Joe Ochman
Length: 15 hrs and 48 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (22 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The Black Swan is a stand-alone book in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s landmark Incerto series, an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision-making in a world we don’t understand. The other books in the series are Fooled by Randomness, Antifragile, Skin in the Game, and The Bed of Procrustes.

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. In this revelatory book, Taleb explains everything we know about what we don’t know, and this second edition features a new philosophical and empirical essay, “On Robustness and Fragility”, which offers tools to navigate and exploit a Black Swan world.

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.

Includes a bonus pdf of tables and figures.

Praise for Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“The most prophetic voice of all.” (GQ)

Praise for The Black Swan:

“[A book] that altered modern thinking.” (The Times, London)

“A masterpiece.” (Chris Anderson, Editor-in-chief of Wired, author of The Long Tail)

“Hugely enjoyable - compelling...easy to dip into.” (Financial Times)

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2010 Nassim Nicholas Taleb (P)2018 Random House Audio

What the critics say

“Engaging.... The Black Swan has appealing cheek and admirable ambition.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“[Taleb writes] in a style that owes as much to Stephen Colbert as it does to Michel de Montaigne.... We eagerly romp with him through the follies of confirmation bias [and] narrative fallacy.” (The Wall Street Journal

The Black Swan changed my view of how the world works.” (Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Laureate)

  “Idiosyncratically brilliant.” (Niall Ferguson, Los Angeles Times

What members say

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Worthy of a reread

this was an excellent book, and a much-needed corrective 2 our overconfidence in our own knowledge. the exposition was exceptionally clear and his polemical Style was extremely entertaining.

parts of tellabs social critique we're weaker or misguided, but his Central thesis was highly persuasive. I especially appreciated the essay and Technical discussion at the end of the book. this essay was added to the second edition and was not present in the original text.

this book stands out as one of the few texts worthy of a reread. this is not because the ideas presented were especially difficult, but rather because the illusion of knowledge is particularly difficult to dispel.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Jared M. Short
  • 2019-04-10

so cool!

I'm not a technical consumer but it was a fascinating read. I think I understood 50%.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Russell
  • 2019-05-02

Once a Cult Classic, Now Rising Paradigm

At this point NNT need no introduction.

Out of all his books, this may be the most essential to understanding a worldview that embraces globalization, but cautions against both globalism and reactionary nationalism. Though you will have to connect some dots to arrive at this conclusion.

Listen closely to characterizations of Extremistan and Mediocristan, the 'Triplet of Historical Opacity' and the fractal beauty of what has become known as "the long tail" of probability.

NNT is not only a successful investor, but a powerful renaissance mind falling in a long tradition of Mediterranean thinkers extending into the ancient world.

You won't regret this one!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Brandon K. Kirkham
  • 2019-03-07

Anti-Statistics

The book poses a real challenge to the current paradigm of risk assessment and consequence prediction. The main idea is that most progress and catastrophes occur in unexpected leaps rather than small incremental changes. I’m still trying to figure out how this is useful to me beyond the awareness of this principle. I’ll get there...

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • S. Hagmüller
  • 2019-05-06

Messy and filled with redundancy

Never knew one could convey simple ideas in such a convoluted manner. 5 subtitles per chapter. Weird imaginary characters with stories going nowhere. No clear thread to follow throughout the book. Too bad.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2019-08-08

Interesting, but over the top

The book has many great points and is thought provoking in many ways. However, is difficult to get past Taleb's abrasive style of writing. It's very clear he is trying to be intentionally agitating by being completely dismissive of the entire disciplines like social science, economics, and even sometimes biology. I generally prefer authors who are careful and thoughtful with their criticism, so this book annoyed me at times. Still, it has many good points, mainly that bell curves have important limitations in predicting important outliers (although he repeats this point ad nauseam). I have trouble believing, as he asserts, that many high level scientists and speculators don't know about power law distributions or think their methods are clairvoyant. Worth the read if you can get over a lot of straw manning of fields. Taleb is capable of making unique and powerful points.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2019-07-25

warning for contemporary arrogance

The evolution has a teaching of pluralism, diversity and devolution which seem to be forgotten in the modern societys decision-makers minds. The author has a clear and justified vision on the skewed conception of the policy-makers . A brialliant thinker all in all.

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  • Basem Aggad
  • 2019-06-21

it'll change you..

though the book gets into boggling tangents at times, it'll definitely have you question the eventuality of things that occur to you and the world around you.. the narrator's cynicism dramatise the writers intent beautifully.

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  • Mira Krishnan
  • 2019-06-13

He's right... annoying, but right

The narrator is very well suited for the over-the-top sarcasm bordering on insult comedy that is Mr. Taleb's style. At the core is how correct Mr. Taleb is. We make significantly erroneous assumptions about the normal distribution (chief among which is that it is not so normal at all), and these errors are at the heart of quite a bit of abuse of statistics. We politely ignore them when we wail and gnash our teeth when this process leads us astray. The second edition of this book has the virtue of discussing the actual way forward - unfortunately, too little of the book focuses on Mr. Taleb's theory of the fourth quadrant and understanding when the risk is the highest and most unmanageable in making erroneous Gaussian assumptions - this is really primarily just the topic of the epilogue. On the other hand it bears taking in mind the things that happened in between the original publication of this book and the present. They prove out Mr. Taleb's point. We know better, and it is beyond time we begin to act like it.

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  • Matt Wong
  • 2019-06-12

A book about unpredictable event is somewhat predictable

The entire book can probably be summed up as “you know nothing, Jon Snow”. The book is probably more philosophical than practical. I enjoyed the counterintuitive thinking but it was a little repetitive.

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  • ElFenix
  • 2019-05-29

Fascinating perspective

Key concepts for application in real world problems. Was glad to read Taleb spent some time as an activist. This brings some grounding philosophies for application in my work with the social sciences, and the intersection with data analytics, AI and predictive modeling.