Posted on January 17, 2009 - by MG
Well, me blog readers. I’m very excited because I have found a new guru AND a new author to devour.
It just goes to show how important news year’s resolutions can be. Mine, as ever, included the resolution to read more books, but this time with the added proviso of some things to give up so as to make time for reading more books.
It’s already paying off. I finished the best novel I’ve read in years – ‘Blindness’ By Jose Saramago. It’s stunningly great and a welcome reminder to me of what constitutes truly great writing. More from Saramago, please!
Now I’m reading “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb who may be a genius.
Owing to my nil-by-ears-and-eyes attitude, I missed this book until I saw it on a pile of popular business, economics and science books at Christmas. My poor husband, who despises most gifts unless they arrive in boxes full of wires and take him happy hours to configure, is usually grudging grateful for a stack of these come Christmas. The title resonated with me because there’s a well-known paper about the difficulty of getting off the publishing slushpile, which also uses the ‘black swan’ metaphor. (‘On the survival of rats in the slushpile’).
Which goes to PROVE that as both Umberto Eco and Taleb say, if a bit of information is important enough to you, IT WILL FIND IT’S WAY TO YOU SOMEHOW.
“The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” is a book that says what a few people I speak to have been muttering for ages. But he says it extremely well, more thoroughly and with evidence of years of thought and reading to synthesize the argument.
To quote a Sunday Times article:
“To explain: black swans were discovered in Australia. Before that, any reasonable person could assume the all-swans-are-white theory was unassailable. But the sight of just one black swan detonated that theory. Every theory we have about the human world and about the future is vulnerable to the black swan, the unexpected event. We sail in fragile vessels across a raging sea of uncertainty. “The world we live in is vastly different from the world we think we live in.”
Not since Umberto Eco has an academic impressed me so much with his breadth of reading, insight, ideas, vision and humour. Maybe it’s because like Eco, Taleb isn’t a pure ‘academic’. In fact he has little time for them. Especially economists. (Here’s a quote from his Website about people with advanced economics degrees.
“I am now convinced that an (advanced) economics degree lowers one’s ability to understand the difference between absence of evidence and evidence of absence. Some people need to be locked up, and locked up quickly.”
Could he mean people like Dr. Gordon Brown? Economists with advanced degrees and the power to totally screw a nation’s economy, does he mean people like that?
For some pure genius advice from the man himself on the way to catch a flight, see this terrific profile of Taleb from the Sunday Times.
Considering that Taleb published this book in April 2007 – before the whole credit crunch thing – and seems to have been proven right in his warnings about the insanity of the finance industry, I’ll bet this book has made him as many enemies as friends, And not just amongst academic economists…