Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls his new book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. (It was the discovery of one black swan that invalidated the theory that all swans are white.) His work continues the theme of his previous book Fooled by Randomness, which is about the role chance plays in life.
It’s not just forecasters who take a chance on predicting the future, however. Each of us does it every time we make an insurance payment or fasten our seat belts. But Taleb says improbable events are inevitable.
The Black Swan is symbolic of the dramatic, earth-shaking events that shape the course of history. He cites such events as September 11, World War I, and the Wall Street crash of 1987 as demonstrations that the world is dominated by the extreme, and the improbable. These events have massive impact. Taleb says, “History does not crawl, it jumps.”
Reviewer Chris Anderson calls the book “a delightful romp through history, economics, and the frailties of human nature.” He quotes Francis Bacon who 400 years ago warned that our minds are wired to deceive us.
Taleb says we spend our lives engaged in small talk, focusing on the known while ignoring the possibility of events that could change our lives. A mathematician turned philosopher, he contends that we really have no idea why stock markets go up or down on any given day, and whatever reason we give is sure to be grossly simplified, if not flat out wrong.
He says our love for simplistic explanations blinds us into thinking we understand how things work. He recommends looking for ways to profit from serendipitous developments (good Black Swans), while at the same time preparing broadly for disaster.
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Random House, 400 pages.