A reading club with a view to the future

138 Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Black Swan

Rare and unpredictable events have a disproportionate impact on history and society, and are often wrongly rationalized after the fact.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Black Swan


"The Black Swan" is a thought-provoking and paradigm-shifting book that challenges our understanding of risk and prediction. Taleb argues that many important events in history and society are not just rare and unpredictable, but also have a disproportionate impact. These "black swan" events are often rationalized after the fact, leading us to falsely believe that we could have predicted them. Taleb shows how our reliance on models, statistics, and experts can actually increase our vulnerability to black swan events, and suggests strategies for building resilience and coping with uncertainty. "The Black Swan" is a must-read for anyone interested in risk management, decision-making, or the limits of human knowledge.


Title: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Author: Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Publishing Year: 2019

Publisher: Random House

Length in hours: 15 hours and 48 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. Black swan events are rare, unpredictable, and have a disproportionate impact on history and society.
  2. Our reliance on models, statistics, and experts can actually increase our vulnerability to black swan events.
  3. The narrative fallacy is the human tendency to rationalize events after the fact, leading us to falsely believe that we could have predicted them.
  4. We need to be more humble in our approach to risk, and focus on building resilience and adapting to uncertainty.
  5. The key to coping with black swan events is to embrace variability, diversity, and redundancy in our systems and institutions.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Black Swan

5 funny quotes

  1. "If you want to annoy a colleague, tell him that his model is not a black swan."
  2. "The only thing I can predict about the next year is that it will contain an idiot who will try to predict something."
  3. "You may object that it is impossible to run a society without leaders. That is not my argument. I am talking about the rare event."
  4. "If you see a turkey and it is fed every day, every single feeding will firm up the bird's belief that it is the general rule of life to be fed every day by friendly members of the human race."
  5. "The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with 'Wow! Signore, professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?' and the others -- a very small minority -- who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "The inability to predict outliers implies the inability to predict the course of history."
  2. "We favor the visible, the embedded, the personal, the narrated, and the tangible; we scorn the abstract."
  3. "History does not crawl, it jumps."
  4. "We are more fooled by noise than ever before, and it's because of a nasty phenomenon called 'big data.'"
  5. "The problem with experts is that they do not know what they do not know."

5 dilemmas

  1. How can we prepare for rare and unpredictable events when our models and statistics are based on the assumption of normality and predictability?
  2. How can we strike a balance between the benefits of specialization and expertise, and the risks of narrow thinking and groupthink?
  3. How can we distinguish between true innovation and mere randomness or luck?
  4. How can we prevent the narrative fallacy from distorting our understanding of events and history?
  5. How can we avoid the pitfalls of overconfidence and hindsight bias when making decisions in uncertain and complex environments?

5 examples

  1. The September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States
  2. The rise of the internet and its impact on society and the economy
  3. The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg
  4. The success of Google and the unpredictable factors that contributed to it
  5. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the failure of experts to predict it

Referenced books

  1. "The Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius
  2. "The Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith
  3. "The Impact of the Highly Improbable" by Vilfredo Pareto
  4. "The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money" by John Maynard Keynes
  5. "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman

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"History does not crawl, it jumps."

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Black Swan
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