The Black Swan
I got a copy of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable for xmas.
In London a couple of weeks ago I pointed it out to Russell as we wandered through a Waterstones. He picked it up, flipped it open, and immediately began to make deadly and merciless fun of it.
For me this is the kind of book I know I’ll want to read if it’s any good, and which I know I’ll (try to) read in any case because these days I’m meeting the kind of people who like to refer to this sort of book. Not wanting to look like I’m not up to speed on the latest popular science, I’ll read for as long as I can bear it.
There are lots of books in this category. E.g., The Tipping Point, which I enjoyed, Wisdom of the Crowds, which I found so annoying and bad that I had to stop reading it, and A Short History of Almost Everything which was semi-amusing and which I made myself finish despite having much better things to read. There’s also Everything is Miscellaneous, which I enjoyed a lot, and Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, which I’ve yet to get hold of. You know the type.
I went to bed early (3am) the other night so I could read a bit of the Black Swan before I went to sleep.
I got about 2 pages in and found it so bad that I almost had to put it down. The prologue is a dozen pages long. I forced myself to read the whole thing.
It’s dreadful, it’s pretentious, it’s vague, it’s silly, it’s obvious, it’s parenthesized and qualified beyond belief, it’s full of the author’s made-up names for things (Black Swan, antiknowledge, empty suits, GIF, Platonicity, Platonic fold, nerdified, antilibrary, extremistan, mediocristan), it’s self-indulgent, it’s trite. It’s a painfully horrible introduction to what I’d hoped would be a good book.
It was so bad that I couldn’t believe it could go on, so I decided to keep reading. This is published by Random House, who you might hope would know better. But I guess they know a smash hit popular theme and title when they see it, and they’ll publish it, even if they know the style is appalling and for whatever reason they don’t have the leverage to force changes.
Fortunately though, the book improves.
The guy is obviously very smart and has been thinking about some of this for a long time, he has an unconventional take on many things, and he does offer insights. I am still finding the style annoying, but I have a feeling I will finish it and I know for sure I’ll take some lessons away. I’m up to page 56, with about 250 to go. I suppose I’ll blog about it again if it seems worthwhile.
If you’re contemplating reading it, I suggest jumping in at Chapter 3.
I’m off to read a bit more now.