9. The Black Swan - Nassim Nicholas Taleb


May 7th, 2020

40 mins 4 secs

Season 2

Your Hosts

About this Episode

The Black Swan focuses on the extreme impact of rare and unpredictable outlier events — and the human tendency to find simplistic explanations for these events, retrospectively.

It was published in 2007, by author and former options trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Coronavirus and Pandemics

This book is extremely poigniant for understanding the Coronavirus pandemic and it's effects. In the book he explains why we would be caught unawares by such an event and why we should build robust systems for events like this. During the discussion on the show we talk through a lot of the ideas he explains in relations to how it can help with the current situation and building robust systems for future events that we can not predict.


A central idea in Taleb's book is not to attempt to predict Black Swan events, but to build robustness to negative events and an ability to exploit positive events. Taleb contends that banks and trading firms are vulnerable to hazardous Black Swan events and are exposed to losses beyond those predicted by their defective financial models.

The book asserts that a "Black Swan" event depends on the observer: for example, what may be a Black Swan surprise for a turkey is not a Black Swan surprise for its butcher. Hence the objective should be to "avoid being the turkey", by identifying areas of vulnerability in order to "turn the Black Swans white".


Taleb has referred to the book as an essay or a narrative with one single idea: "our blindness with respect to randomness, particularly large deviations." The book moves from literary subjects in the beginning to scientific and mathematical subjects in the later portions. Part One and the beginning of Part Two delve into psychology. Taleb addresses science and business in the latter half of Part Two and Part Three. Part Four contains advice on how to approach the world in the face of uncertainty and still enjoy life.

The book has been described by The Sunday Times as one of the twelve most influential books since World War II. As of 2019, it has been cited approximately 10,000 times, 9,000 of which are for the English-language edition (we can expect a lot more after the Coronavirus event). The book spent 36 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list;17 as hardcover and 19 weeks as paperback. It was published in 32 languages.