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[personal profile] eirias
So I am reading this book, which my in-laws kindly got me for Fake Christmas (so long had passed since Real Christmas that I'd forgotten I asked for it). The book is about the effect of, as an economist friend put it, low-probability, high-cost events: things whose impact dwarfs the events we can predict, making prediction itself a fool's errand. I am so far really blown away by how he's taken a topic and ideas that are very exciting to me and encased them in a book that deeply annoys me.

  • The author is, simply put, a jerk. This is his attitude: "Look at me! I'm a Real Intellectual! Not one of those effete morons who have tenured professorships and publish in peer-reviewed journals, oh no, that's not for me! Tenure is for charlatans! Peer review is for sheeple! Editors enforce mediocrity! The mark of truly Novel and Important ideas is that you develop them on long walks with brilliant people and then publish them on an ugly website!"
  • Ahem. Anyway, while discussing most of the social sciences in a way that veers past provocation into simple bad manners -- for instance, liberal use of scare-quotes, as when describing economics as a "profession" -- he inexplicably spares psychology. I genuinely don't understand this; I think that to the extent that the criticisms he levels at social science are apt, the judgment and decision-making world he loves has to cope with them also. I'd love to ask him to clarify, but see exhibit A, and also it appears from his site that he's getting a lot of email.

Perhaps I will flesh out my thoughts more thoroughly when I have finished the book, but I just had to vent a bit.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-21 04:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eldan.livejournal.com
Interesting... thanks for the warning. It's a book I'm very interested in, and I'll probably still read it to make up my own mind, but your first bullet point is exactly what I was worried about from what I've read about Taleb.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-26 11:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
It does seem to be a common opinion. I asked one of our program officers in a relevant field if he knew anything about the book and he said he'd once heard Taleb speak and had an impression similar to mine.

Also, reviews of his book seem to fall into two broad classes: (1) "The man is brilliant!" (2) "The man is an arrogant asshat." With most pop science books I really don't think you see nearly so many of (2) even when it's true.

The book, by the way, improved slightly in the last few chapters as he got marginally more specific -- although every time I'd get in a groove of enjoying myself he'd pop out some miserable thing that would annoy me (for instance in one spot he says that he imagines his detractors as "noisy ape[s] with little personal control"). But overall it seemed a bit thin; through most of the book I wanted more idea-explication and less self-indulgent personal narrative.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-21 07:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chilimuffin.livejournal.com
funny. this book has been highly recommended to me by someone whose opinion I respect.... now how will I decide? (I suppose I should just read it for myself and make a decision as to its worth, but my time is just not free enough to be so liberal in my leisure choices these days....)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-21 07:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
I don't advocate not reading it, except if you are one of those people whose blood pressure responds badly to unrestrained arrogance. It is still an interesting topic and I still hope to walk away with good food for thought, though it will require more effort than I think it should. I dislike it, but I am not sorry to be reading it.

But honestly, I only see two reasons not to notice the bloated ego obscuring the meat: the reader is cowed because he is naive; or he is of exceedingly poor character and has confused brilliance with belligerence. One can be more or less bothered by the ego, of course, and that's fine, but I don't think reasonable people can disagree about whether it's there.

For comparison: I find the egotism of an Ayn Rand novel to be less distracting than what's on display here.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-22 01:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ovariance.livejournal.com
What an odd little elf.

I like the last line on his "website": "[Also please please refrain from offering to “improve” my web site]"

Somehow, it seems like he's somebody who doesn't really listen to reason. I wouldn't want to be his neighbor and have to ask him to turn down the music.


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