The Black Swan Discussion Questions

Good morning gang. In July for the book club we read Nicolas Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact Of The Highly Improbable. It is a book about uncertainty. A very concise summary:

We are not very good at predicting things and life is more random than we want to admit. Also, it is the things that are unpredictable to the extreme–sudden terrorist attacks, abrupt stock market crashes, etc–that have the greatest impact on societies and our lives.

For anyone who read it or has read it in the past:

1. What did you think of Taleb’s style?

The man is pretty sure of himself, that goes without saying. I read a lot of Amazon reviews, and nearly all of the negative reviews mention the author’s “arrogance” or “disdain for ideas that are not his own.”

I thought he was consistently funny and consistently confident. I’m not sure arrogant is exactly the word I would use, although it certainly applied at times.

2. Do these ideas actually matter? How applicable are they?

I have sat through a lot of university lectures where someone droned on and on about great ideas and theories. There are times when I can realize that I am hearing a Big Idea but don’t really care because I can’t figure out how it matters to me in my own life.

I didn’t feel that way about The Black Swan. My favorite exercise from the book is Taleb’s suggestion that we try to take the narrative away from events when we try to interpret them. Is it possible to view a succession of events without imposing a story on them? I’ve been trying it since I read the book.

It is a very interesting way of looking at things. Is it helpful? I don’t know yet. But it is a challenge for anyone who loves stories, and it seems like telling stories is ultimately a poor method of predicting.

3. Who would you recommend this book to?

Janette kept asking me if I like the book. Then she asked if she would like it. I realized I was not sure who I would actually recommend this book to. A lot of it is pretty technical-sounding. And yet it is those academics who love big words who get a lot of Taleb’s disdain, so they may not be the ones reading the book.

I think most of the book is pretty accessible, but it isn’t exactly easy reading either.

So I’m really not sure who this book is for. It has information in it that could be useful to anyone, but I don’t know exactly what “type “of person will read this book, enjoy it, and apply it.

What say you?

Josh