I have a love/hate relationship with books written for the lay public. On the one hand they usually have at least a few quotable gems, on the other hand they are always puffed up with unnecessary verbiage. Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “Fooled by randomness” doesn’t fail to disappoint. As much as I love both the topic, and the writer, I can’t help but feel like there’s a bit too much ego between me and the information.
The book is highly recommended, don’t get me wrong, but a review by me is always going to give you the straight dope. Just because a book is worth reading, doesn’t mean you’ll get much out of it. The best part of the book is that it gets you to stop and think about randomness and bias, but don’t expect for Taleb to go too deeply into the topic. This book is for mass consumption, which means it is dangerous. You’ll learn just enough to think you know something, but not enough for you to actually know something.
Taleb, like his interviews, is all over the place. He tries to tell a story, and he’s just not that great at it. His characters are cardboard non-entities, and he frequently abandons them to adopt his normal authorial voice which is what he should be using all of the time. I know it’s all the rage with puff books these days to keep the kiddies interested, but I imagine it’s one of those editor enforced formulas that are more superstition than anything.
If you are interested in markets, trading and investing, the book is a must read. It will give you some food for thought and an opportunity to learn more through other resources. You don’t have to know much about statistics to understand the topic, everything is explained with clear and entertaining analogies. The book is in some ways better than his speeches because it’s been edited and refined. A lot of his spoken humor falls a bit flat, but when written (which seems to be his forte as a medium) it’s downright hilarious.
Taleb is a writer who is earnestly seeking to manage the impression you have of him. He wants you to see him as an intellectual, but a black sheep at the same time. He is very smart, so he pulls it off, but sometimes one gets the feeling he’s putting on airs, and selecting words and phrases specifically to demonstrate vocabulary as a cheap path to coming off as a bona fide intellectual.
I have to say I am sympathetic to that, I do it myself sometimes, and we both share a love of history, especially Roman and Greek.