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Book Review | Black Swan by Nassim Taleb

If you add the fattest person to ever live to an arena of 10,000 randomly selected people, the average weight doesn’t change much. If you add Bill Gates to an arena of 10000 randomly selected people , the average net worth skyrockets. This idea illustrates the difference between bell curves and power laws, Mediocristan and Extremistan, and a world where all swans are white and a world where black swans exist.

Nassim Taleb is an asshole. But, I have yet to find a good argument against the thesis in The Black Swan, Antifragile, or Skin in the Game (the three books of his Incerto series that I have listened to so far). In fact, the more books/tweets/media I consume the more I see: references to, obvious misinterpretations of, and arguments clearly inspired by Taleb’s writing.

Maybe that’s who you become when you invest your free time sorting out your thoughts, presenting a thesis that is proven right over and over again just to be summarily dismissed by the very audience you’re trying to warn.

COVID19 wasn’t a black swan. It wasn’t unforeseen – task forces and marginal supplies had been put together and several high profile people gave prescient talks years in advance. However, I think it would be fair to say that the response to the pandemic (at least in the US) was a black swan to most of the civilians.

If I told you a year ago that US federal, state and local governments would shut down small businesses across the country mandating that people stay inside you’d think I was crazy – but here we are.

The lesson we should take from this book (as a society and as individuals) is to build more robust, less centralized / predictable systems. Living life this way – at both ends of the barbell (exposed to massive risk but with cash under the bed) protects you from the inevitable unknown monster that’s coming to eat everyone in the middle.