Customer Review

139 of 170 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Some interesting discussion, but plenty of Taleb's large ego, May 31, 2003
This review is from: Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in the Markets and in Life (Hardcover)
As a professional options trader and familiar with Taleb's "Dynamic Options Hedging", I expected a very professional book with interesting insights into the human and mathematical aspects of probability and randomness.
And while the book does provide some of that, the valuable information is embedded in writing that is overly self-centered if not egomaniacal.
I'd like to point out that I REALLY wanted to love this book. But I didn't.
Taleb writes about interesting ways in which people do not understand randomness but he does it in a way which is unnecessarily insulting and condescending.
Even worse, I find him hypocritical. He spends a lot of energy talking about the value of being able to change one's mind, as well as the value of large sample sizes in probability-based decision making. But then he describes how far out of his way he goes to avoid information (which might cause him to change his mind or which would increase his sample size.) Further he implies that anyone who takes in certain information, like almost any form of news broadcast, must be an idiot and lives in a world of self-delusion.
Taleb writes like a smart but anti-social and holier-than-thou trader. He writes some very useful stuff about randomness and its misapplication in modern thinking. But then he goes on psychological tangents which are nothing more than trying (and failing) to find a mathematical basis on which to defend his personality foibles (flaws?).
He over-generalizes about trading in a style which he does not employ, i.e. selling premium or making bets based on past occurrences. He writes as if his way is the only way that makes sense, and implies that in the long run it is only because of randomness that anyone who does not trade the same way he does could be successful. ("Ergoditic" is definitely the best word in the book....)
Taleb gets very close to interesting discussions of a non-mathematical nature as well, such as the level of emotion involved with success or failure, as well as some interesting historical information. But he lessens the effect of the good writing by then telling us how all this fits into how he lives his life, using as many obscure references as possible, in an ongoing attempt to justify (to the reader or to himself?) the lifestyle he has created for himself. For example, he uses the above discussion to explain why he does not like to look at his own trading profit or loss statements. And he writes it in a way that shows he expects us to think he's brilliant or heroic for having such discipline. Very silly stuff....
Taleb describes his hero worship (of a philosopher named Popper) and it becomes clear that at least a partial goal of this book is to get the reader to revere (or emulate) Taleb the way he reveres (and tries to emulate) Popper. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.
Overall I found the probability discussion interesting, but not worth the tedium of having to listen as if the reader is Taleb's (badly needed) therapist.
Luckily for Taleb, he says directly in the book that he will ignore all reviews. I think you should be able to find a less tedious source for the bits of valuable information "Fooled By Randomness" provides without having to suffer the insufferable smugness of the author.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 26, 2009 7:13:44 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 26, 2009 7:35:29 AM PST
Roger Harris says:
I bought this book and would agree with everything this reviewer said. I am not a Wall street person or stock investor (thank god, at least at this time). I would add he also adores George Soros, a far left financier of organizations I despise. That said there are some very good points in the book about randomness, which I found interesting since I have had to deal with this topic in the kind of work I did. He is very fond also of Monte Carlo simulations which have good value but are subject to the old rule - garbage in, garbage out. I think the heading for one of his chapters, "If you are so rich why aren't you smart", illustrates his key point very well about the role luck/randomness plays at least in the short term.

There is a verse in the biblical book of Eccesliastes that sums it up even more succinctly "time and chance happeneth to them all".

The reader may enjoy as I did some of the stories he tells of Wall street traders and investors and the fate that befell them. As humans we all have some flaws, but Mr. Taleb should get credit for hanging his out there for us to see as it helps us to judge his perspectives.

Posted on Oct 31, 2010 9:06:46 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Nov 23, 2010 1:27:38 PM PST]
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