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Book Freak Issue #94: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

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Book Freak

August 23 · Issue #94 · View online

Short pieces of advice from books


Hi fellow Book Freaks,
Last week’s newsletter was a bit of a change of pace from the usual format. Instead of running four excerpts from one book, I ran four excerpts from four different books. I asked you to let me know what you thought of the new format. Slightly less than half the people who responded said they liked new format, and slightly more than half said they liked the old format. Here are some comments:
People who liked four excerpts from four books:
  • I like the quick quotes from books.
  • Like the new format. It quickly introduces me to books I wouldn’t have otherwise known about. Reminds me of the Three Times Wiser newsletter.
  • I did like the new format with quotes from different books.
People who liked four excerpts from one book:
  • I loved the format of this newsletter, covering a whole book. This new format feels like an Instagram page.
  • Did not like the multiple book format.
  • I like the other format better since I could get a better feeling for a book!
People who didn’t seem to mind either format but had a comment anyway:
  • Even though I like the idea of receiving quotes from various sources in the same e-mail, I believe that they should have a common theme among them to create a sense of identity. So, I think you can do quotes from the same or from different books if they share some thematic relationship.
  • We love that you distill whole books into a few amazing thoughts, but we don’t care where the amazing ideas come from! Thanks for a newsletter that’s easy to engage with in a laidback way. Always worth my time!
My takeaway from this is that I will go back to the old format. The comment that really hit home was, “I like the other format better since I could get a better feeling for a book.”
Thanks to all of you who weighed in on the issue, and thanks for being a Book Freak reader!
— Mark
Here are four brief excerpts from a book about dealing with the unexpected: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Read books are far less valuable than unread ones
“The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore, professore dottore Eco, what a library you have ! How many of these books have you read?” and the others - a very small minority - who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you don’t know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”
Stand above the rat race
“I don’t run for trains.” Snub your destiny. I have taught myself to resist running to keep on schedule. This may seem a very small piece of advice, but it registered. In refusing to run to catch trains, I have felt the true value of elegance and aesthetics in behavior, a sense of being in control of my time, my schedule, and my life. Missing a train is only painful if you run after it! Likewise, not matching the idea of success others expect from you is only painful if that’s what you are seeking. You stand above the rat race and the pecking order, not outside of it, if you do so by choice.”
Train yourself to spot the difference between the sensational and the empirical
“I propose that if you want a simple step to a higher form of life, as distant from the animal as you can get, then you may have to denarrate, that is, shut down the television set, minimize time spent reading newspapers, ignore the blogs. Train your reasoning abilities to control your decisions. Train yourself to spot the difference between the sensational and the empirical. This insulation from the toxicity of the world will have an additional benefit: it will improve your well-being.”
Tinker as much as possible
“The strategy for the discoverers and entrepreneurs is to rely less on top-down planning and focus on maximum tinkering and recognizing opportunities when they present themselves. So I disagree with the followers of Marx and those of Adam Smith: the reason free markets work is because they allow people to be lucky, thanks to aggressive trial and error, not by giving rewards or ‘incentives’ for skill. The strategy is, then, to tinker as much as possible and try to collect as many Black Swan opportunities as you can.”
(Book Freak may receive a small commission on books purchased here.)
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