Sunday, February 08, 2015

Review: The Black Swan


The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A Black Swan is an unpredictable event that when viewed in hindsight is not at all surprising. It gets its name from, well, a black swan. Way back in history, there was a time when scientists didn't believe swans could be black. There had been rumors of them, but people who "knew about these types of things" had never seen one and therefore didn't believe they existed. Until eventually proof was provided to the right people at which point it became a "duh, well, why not?" There will be "dreamers" who imagine black swans, but they aren't credible until after the black swan has been shown to exist. If they're lucky, they might be considered a visionary, but more often than not, people have forgotten. If they're unlucky, people will demand that they "do it again" like some magic fortune teller.

A number of recent advances in technology have been described as Black Swans and a lot of effort is put into trying to figure out what the next one is because Black Swans are rare and Black Swans are valuable.

I had this book on my list for a long time. I didn't think it would spill any secrets about Black Swans known only to its readers or unveil some magical formula that would turn me into a Black Swan spotter, but I was hoping that I would at least learn a little more about how to think like a visionary, maybe identify Black Swans a little quicker (and discount swans who have fallen in a can of paint) and most importantly, I was looking for a good list of recent Black Swans with some solid analysis on what made them Black Swans and how they came to be.

I didn't find any of that, at least it hadn't happened before I abandoned the book. The book mostly seemed to be the author smugly talking about his own life. It it was supposed to be bonefides to why the author was equipped to talk about Black Swans, it went on extremely too long and didn't get to what I was looking for by the time I had had enough (and then some). It, or the term, had been mentioned by a number of the smart people I regularly read, so I pushed on well past when I wanted to abandon and when I did finally abandon, I felt a little bit more chagrin than usual - if I couldn't even read the book, I was admitting that I wasn't even tangentially near those circles. Alas.

This book is ranked 3.5 stars on Amazon with some pretty vicious comments by its dissenters, despite it making the New York Times Bestseller list. To read more reviews, head on over to Amazon (affiliate link).
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