The Black Swan

The Black Swan

The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Book - 2007
Average Rating:
Rate this:
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, Skin in the Game, 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
Publisher: New York : Random House, c2007
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9781400063512
Branch Call Number: 003.54 T143b 2007
Characteristics: xxviii, 366 p. : ill. ; 25 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Oct 14, 2016

Elegant book that underscores the hubris of "experts," the deficiency of herd thinking and the limitations of our ability to predict the future.

Oct 05, 2016

Personally found Nassim Taleb's 'Fooled by Randomness' to be more interesting and easier to read (though the concepts and material covered are quite similar).

Jun 20, 2015

The Black Swan: the Impact of the Highly Improbable --- by --- Nassim Nicholas Taled.
Somehow I was expecting something more interesting, something more accessible, something less dense, something with more substance. I can deal with philosophy (if it’s cut up into bite-sized morsels), I can deal with history. Financial stuff awash with theory and mental lines and graphs, on the other hand, makes my eyes glaze over as though in insulin-shock brought on by an overdose of jelly-filled doughnuts. The financial stuff always gives me the distinct impression the emperor’s wearing nary his skivvies. Swan is a little reminiscent of a dog that goes to lie down but must first go around and around. Except I wonder if Taleb will ever stop going around.
In desperation, I invoked the fifty page rule and decided it would be best to go on to some more pre-masticated form of entertainment.
With my apologies to all the Talebs out there: for sure they already knew they weren’t writing for the unwashed masses.
As for me: I'm going to wash up for supper.

Mar 28, 2015

The hatred this book inspires bewilders me. Taleb mercilessly (and frequently viciously) attacks economists, so I understand why economists hate Taleb and his book. I don't understand why so many other people seem to hate his book. It is dense and it tells its thesis indirectly much of the time, but it is a brilliant book. I suspect its attack upon established paradigms is the cause of the bile spewed at the book. All I can say is to read it for yourself. But be warned, it isn't an easy read, so buckle in.

May 04, 2014

Book could have been about 30 pages. Maybe he had a bet with someone as to how many times he could use the word "Gaussian".

Apr 22, 2014

This book is worth reading notwithstanding the authors acerbic personality coming to the fore in his attempt to provide a "narrative".

curryc Jan 30, 2014

Be warned: This book is not really about the origin, nature, or consequences of highly improbable events, about which you will learn little to nothing by reading it. It is a meandering, self-indulgent ramble through a landscape of truly interesting work that the author makes very little effort to explain. The book is really about one thing and one thing only: the author himself, as self-styled iconoclast. I want my 5 hours back.

Nov 09, 2013

An interesting read that is rather dense. The ideas are sound, but not something people can pick up on right away, you have to swish them around in your brain first.

Aug 27, 2013

I only read about 1/3 of this book and then I decided to give it a break. I may give it a go later but I was getting annoyed at how the author tells fictitious stories as though they were true and uses them as proof for his theory on Black Swans. Now, let me be clear, I believe his theory of Black Swans and very much believe that we humans think we know things that we have have very little idea about but his method turned me off and I finally had to quit reading the book, which is something I rarely do. Maybe I'll give it another chance in the future when I am in a different place in my life.

Aug 09, 2013

read up to page 62

View All Comments


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at TCCL

To Top