The Black SwanPosted: September 15, 2008
I think maybe I should stop reading books, because apparently I have become impossible to satisfy. I thought a nice non-fiction would do me some good after several disappointing endings. Sigh. How wrong.
Actually, I absolutely loved the first quarter of The Black Swan (subtitled The Impact of the Highly Improbable). It was captivating, novel, well-written, and accessible. I was ready to become a convert of whatever Taleb wanted to tell me about the world.
But after a certain point, it got dull. Paragraphs spanned entire pages (something I vehemently oppose in nearly all cases), there weren’t enough interesting examples, and the writing turned too academic for me. It wasn’t fun to read, but a chore. I skimmed entire sections. (I feel ok about counting all the pages, though, after finishing every single word of The Count of Monte Cristo. If you want to challenge me, read that book first.)
The premise of the book I still find quite fascinating. You may wonder about the title. Taleb explains that for many years, Western culture was completely convinced that swans are white. All swans are white. Every time we saw another swan, it confirmed our belief that swans are white. Then, with the discovery of Australia, the first black swans became known to Westerners. It was something that challenged a deep-seated conviction upheld by years of observation. In Taleb’s view, then, a black swan is something unexpected, unpredictable, and influential (with positive or negative consequences). He says that “Black Swans” (events that meet the above criteria) are what drive history, although we have a huge emphasis in our modern world on controlling random events and predicting what is really unpredictable.
Altogether, it was worth reading, because I enjoyed the beginning so much. Maybe I just have too short of an attention span these days…