I’ll be honest with you. I picked up the book purely on the basis of my roommate’s endless praises. Throughout the year that I spent with him, he advertently used the phrases “The most serious book you would have ever read”, “A book that would truly open your eyes and make you see the world in new light” and “The only book which you should sit up and read”. Of course any book that draws such praise, be it from the editor of the Times or Baba himself, should be a book worth glancing through. So, in my desperate attempts to cling on to any interest I had in life around me, I decided to part with 80 bucks and bought myself a copy of the Black Swan (Nassim Taleb). [You might frown at my decision to encourage contrabranding but hey, they are a section of society that needs uplifting – the ‘contrabranders’] The front page of the book is as usual spewed with cliche quotes from equally cliche sources. I have stopped taking any of the quotations on books’ covers seriously. You rarely find an honest book with negative reviews strewn over its cover. Good books should simply consider it a waste of time to include reviews on their covers – The book should speak for itself.
I have only gone through about 20 pages of the book, so correct me if I am wrong and if the book takes a U-turn in the further few hundred pages. I found the title of the book pretty bold, so the book does have a lot to live up to. From what I gather thus far, the book centres around the theme, “The impact of the extremely improbable”. Honestly, I don’t find it much to write on but it looks like the writer has done his homework to churn out a book that is as thick as it is.
I like judging writers by their tone in the book; I find it akin to body langauge. There is something about the calm narration of a Wodehouse, the expertise of a Forsyth and the imagination of a PK Dick that sets up the scene in which a book can unfold. In case of Naseem Taleb, I sensed a stern tone, a kind of arrogance in the way he goes about putting his points. I do not wish to argue with him over his central theme, but it is the careless dismissive statements on ideas that may be irrelevant to the central point in the book. He actually says “It’s remarkable how fast and effectively you can construct a nationality with a few speechs, a flag and a national anthem.” Nowhere in the pages around the line does he care to expound upon his statement (which incidentally appears in a footnote). Snide comments or casual remarks? One is left guessing.
The book is sharp. Sections of the audience do like high-flying language, but I would rather have reason than rhetoric language. It was fascinating, the number of terms he uses the ‘I’ throughout the course of the first chapter(at least). One would expect a social scientist to be more demure with his views in a manner that the reader could grow into them rather, than forcing his way into the reader’s head. Throughout the course of my reading I felt subjected to a speech that was trying to bend my thoughts to take its shape instead of offering an arbor around which thoughts could entwine.
You might feel I am being extremely critical of the author. Perhaps so. But it is probably because of the impression that a certain other gentleman (Thomas Kuhn) thorugh his book (The structure of Scientific Resolutions) has left on my mind . In fact, the two books offer a fascinating case study. Both of them contest on contrasting views. The Black Swan assumes the occourance of improbable events and studies the consequences that follow, whereas the The structure of Scientific Resolutions insists that there would be no scope for surprises or ‘Revolutions’, as he puts it, if human beings shunned paradigms of thinking.
Although I am neither an expert critic, nor an avid reader of such works, I do observe a stark contrast between the two books. The structure of Scientific Resolutions is a book that hasn’t been written to sell. It did not vie for honors at any literary award show. Neither does it classify as a purely scientif thesis. It is an attempt – a very brave attempt to criticise science scientifically; to debate with it in its own language and to challenge it on its home turf. For, as soon as the reader picks up the book, he will realize the book is not meant to captivate. It is book by a scientist (a scientific historian, to be precise), for students of science (not literally but by ‘student’ I mean those who chose reason).
The book, if you choose to observe carefully, puts no foot wrong. There is not a single word out of place; and I don’t mean gramatically. If ‘right words at the right time’ were an art, Kuhn would be the master of it. There is not a word that is left hanging, no thought left unexplained and no sentence that hasn’t been painstakingly and meticulously constructed. The man is an editor’s dream. The reader on the other hand, can pick up any sentence in the book and quote it, resting in the assurance that the entire book will back him up. The black swan is debatable; possibly deliberately left that way.
Readers would definately enjoy both books and the tussle between them. Wodehouse would have had a perfect plot if he were to write on both the books, embodying them in characters. One of the books can aptly be described as the ‘Jeeves’ of the two and it wouldn’t be the Black Swan.