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    Q&A | October 9, 2015

    Tyler Oakley: IMG Powell’s Q&A: Tyler Oakley

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The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable


The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Cover

ISBN13: 9781400063512
ISBN10: 1400063515
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Author Q & A

The Black Swan is an intriguing title — can you give us an overview of what a black swan looks like?

The Black Swan is about these unexpected events that end up controlling our lives, the world, the economy, history, everything. Before they happen we consider them close to impossible; after they happen we think that they were predictable and partake of a larger scheme. They are rare, but their impact is monstrous. My main problem is: Why we don't know that these events play such a large role. Why are we blind to them?

What is your favorite example of a black swan?

I had to write one for the book, with the fictional character of  Yevgenia Krasnova. She starts as an unsuccessful writer, becomes famous and creates a new style --later  people found her so obviously talented and believed that the emergence of such style was unavoidable. Most successful stories in the arts and letters are Black Swans. Outside the arts, my favorite one is the emergence of the computer and the internet. Also, almost all drug discoveries are Black Swans. The existence of the universe is a Black Swan...

What first got you interested in the world of uncertainty and probability?

I have been thinking about the neglected role of luck and our overestimation of knowledge ever since I can remember, though not in clear form. You know, children philosophize more than adults --and they are critical of adults. I hated school because I liked to daydream and the system tried to stop me from that. Later, I figured out that that the system taught you what little certainties we think we had, and trained you to become a sucker by making you ashamed of saying "I don't know". The world is too ambiguous --the Black Swan comes from believing in crisp and neat texture of reality, and from the overestimation of our skills in mapping the world. But I was only able to express my idea after I started working in the city of London and in Wall Street. It seemed so obvious that people in Wall Street didn't know what was going on, yet thought that they did. It was so blatant that they overestimated their explanations, the role of "skills", yet didn't realize it. So I kept a tally of predictions and realized they can't  predict but somehow manage to convince themselves they could. The Black Swan, that rare, high-impact event, was the main reason for their failure to predict and understand the world. It was both a psychological problem (we didn't know) and an empirical one; so I approached the problem from both ends.

What do you want people to take away from reading your book?

How not to be a fool for things that matter. You can take advantage of uncertainty if you know how to look it in the eye, and know the limits of what we understand. You should learn to accept fuzziness and know that we know very little in some domains --but that it can be so useful a guidance to reality. How to avoid taking seriously the "faux experts" (those who wear suits and act in a pompous way). How listening to the media,or studying economics, degrades your knowledge of the world.

How do you write? Do you have a special room in which you work and a set routine?

My principal activity is daydreaming, so I may write mostly in my head. I have no routine, no work ethics. For years I had an upper limit of 50 minutes a day of actual writing so I would keep enjoying it. If I am bored, I stop right away, or I try to change the subject. You can easily fool yourself, not the reader: if you don't enjoy what you are writing about, the reader will somehow figure it out. So I may go for a long time without writing anything except a check. Also, I need an aesthetic environment. I write in my " literary library", the one that does not have technical books and technical papers --it is like a sacred space. I also like to write in cafes away from business people, with bohemian people around.  Writing is sacred, other activities are profane, and I don't want them to corrupt my writing. 

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

jsharf, January 2, 2010 (view all comments by jsharf)
An important book that should change the way we think about markets and social phenomena as a whole. The author shows that large price movements are both more common and more damaging that we think, but that they're so far outside our normal experience that we're psychologically unequipped to expect them. Our mathematics that we're developed to manage risk is also deeply flawed, and has led to a number of market crashes in the last decade.

There's virtually no mathematics in the book, and it's easily accessible to laymen.
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David Myers, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by David Myers)
Leaves us no longer trapped in the 19th century probabilistic thinking and makes us aware of the discontinuous nature of human events.
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aunt dracula, September 28, 2008 (view all comments by aunt dracula)
This book presents some compelling arguments for changing the way we typically think about large-impact events. N.N. Taleb explains how certain ways of characterizing events may lead to flawed conclusions. If you can get past Taleb's sometimes overwhelming arrogance, this book has a lot to offer.
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Product Details

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas
Random House (NY)
Uncertainty (information theory)
Management - General
General Business & Economics
Business management
Corporate Finance
economics;probability;non-fiction;philosophy;statistics;business;finance;science;randomness;uncertainty;psychology;risk;mathematics;forecasting;investing;information theory;epistemology;sociology;history;chance;economy;decision making;popular science;soci
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
9.21x6.47x1.25 in. 1.49 lbs.

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The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Used Hardcover
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$7.50 In Stock
Product details 480 pages Random House - English 9781400063512 Reviews:
"Review" by , "A humanist at heart, Mr. Taleb ponders not only the effect of Black Swans but also the reason we have so much trouble acknowledging their existence."
"Review" by , "When The Black Swan tries to expand from finance into a general theory of history, it falters further owing to lack of evidence."
"Review" by , Taleb's excellent book...effectively exposes many common illusions."
"Review" by , "Elegant, startling, and universal in its applications The Black Swan will change the way you look at the world."
"Synopsis" by , The Black Swan is a standalone 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, 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.


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


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

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