The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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.

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
“Idiosyncratically brilliant.”—Niall Ferguson, Los Angeles Times
“The Black Swan changed my view of how the world works.”—Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate
“[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
“Hugely enjoyable—compelling . . . easy to dip into.”—Financial Times

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  • Stephen S.

    Groovy! Enjoyed each participant. The book's enjoyment seemed to split on gender lines, in general. Taleb set out to gore an ox or two and that either aided or hindered one's reading experience. It was a tough read, I had to plow through it. Claire's setup and questions were spot on (ok, I am a Dr. John). Cheers!

    April 4, 2013

  • Claire

    I have made a reservation in the name Claire Ady. please check your RSVP and please update yours if you cannot make it

    April 3, 2013

  • Claire

    I struggled with writing discussion questions for this one, but hopefully these should keep us going: What did you think of Taleb’s style?
    Is what we don't know so much more important than what we do know?
    Why do we not acknowledge the phenomenon of Black Swans until after they occur?
    Do we really fool ourselves into thinking we know more than we actually do?
    Are you more of a “Fat Tony” or a “Dr John”?
    How can you protect yourself from adverse effects of Black Swan events?
    Do you think you would live your life differently going forward after reading this book?
    Will this book affect your financial investment activities?
    Are these really new ideas?
    Do these ideas actually matter?
    How applicable are the ideas to life?
    Who would you recommend this book to?

    April 3, 2013

  • Bob T.

    no clue how to send a dollah by pay pal. so include me out.

    April 2, 2013

  • tara

    I have to work that night.

    April 1, 2013

  • Jason F. C.

    I lost my copy of the book so I'll never finish now.

    April 1, 2013

  • Claire

    Hi everyone, I would like to make a reservation for us at the diner, so please check your RSVP and please update yours if you cannot make it

    March 31, 2013

  • Claire

    is anyone else thinking Taleb is not “Idiosyncratically brilliant” just an idiot?

    1 · March 27, 2013

    • Stephen S.

      Cool! Should make more an interesting evening. This should be the first question presented.

      March 27, 2013

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