Fooled by Randomness - Nassim Nicholas Taleb

As I started reading 'Fooled by Randomness' about a month ago I could swear that I'd read this stuff before. A man of middle-eastern origin trading on Wall St. in options. Black Swans. I could swear I had read about him before. I went to The New Yorker's website and searched for this Taleb's name and sure I hit an article from 2000 written by Malcolm Gladwell, no less. I know I had really enjoyed that article then and I got excited about the book even more and read it pretty quickly (at least for me) right after that.

'Fooled by Randomness' is Mr. Taleb's attempt at analyzing success in its generally accepted form: wealth. Taleb writes in a forward to the book about how the first edition of this book got a ton of email from readers telling him that his book made them feel vindicated. It made them feel accomplished or successful in its own little but significant way. It seems that the readers were essentially on target. Mr. Taleb does seem to be obsessed with the idea that successful people aren't necessarily smart. This idea has become fairly popular in recent months among The New Yorker crowd. The magazine has lately featured many articles discussing success. Is success a result of smart people or is the result of the times or of luck or randomness or intuition or what exactly.

But this is about Taleb and his book about Randomness. Taleb is of course sitting pretty today. He is probably laughing his ass off today in some random bar in Manhattan. More practically he is probably working on a new book -- how about 'The Suburban Swan'?

The type of 'blow-up' Taleb talks about that happens to traders and others on Wall St. when they make foolish bets is much of what consumes Taleb. Today is his day. However, we'd be more cautious if we'd take his own advice of not paying too much attention to detail and waiting for the 'end' to make up your mind about something. Trouble with this approach is that there really is no such thing as an 'end.'

Taleb talks, brilliantly, I must say, about the inexact scale that tells you more about the scale than about what it measures. Taleb, of course, has first-hand experience. His book tells you so much more about Taleb than about randomness.

Taleb is very well-read and isn't afraid to show it to you. Again and again. He has what I call as the 'Gopnik-syndrome.' He is a brilliant man and has brilliant friends. He has Gladwell praising the book on front cover and he praises Gladwell's book inside the book. I guess they formed a 'partnership' in 2000 to promote each other's cause. Very un-Taleb-like if you ask me.  But then you don't really know the real Taleb. Is he the brilliant author who writes beautifully and excoriates the Wall St. for their 'exceses' or he the pompous ass who does not follow his own advice. Ever.

The book is still a lot of fun to read. His wild rants against journalists and financial wiz-kids is certainly very very entertaining. His stories are charming even if beside the point.

The biggest problem with the book is the cop-out in the last section where Taleb accepts that he is the worst offender of everything he criticizes. This attempt at self-apology is so out of character with the Taleb of everything before that it just leaves a horrible taste in your mouth. He is just not believable anymore. We cannot respect the rants of a man, an educated man, when he says he'd direct most severe criticism toward himself. It drains leadership. That would also make Taleb fit well, unfortunately, today. 

However, guys like Taleb will be right on certain days and these days are those. It is fitting that I should've read this book only a few weeks ago. It certainly makes me think about Wall St., if not differently, then in at least a different vocabulary. 

[Ravindra, thanks for gifting this book to me]