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Book Review: Fooled by Randomness (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)

September 26, 2010 (Last updated on September 25, 2018) by

I don’t remember who suggested reading this unusual “trading book” to me but whoever that was, I am sincerely thankful to that person. Nassim Taleb is definitely a counter-establishment trader and financial writer and, while usually that means something bad to me, in this case that property turns out to be a great advantage, as in Fooled by Randomness it’s proved many times that one shouldn’t rely on the general wisdom (which is actually foolishness) of the public markets.

Fooled by Randomness is a book about probabilities in life — both in our daily life and in the financial markets. The problem is that the humans aren’t quite fit to be dealing with probabilities. The book tries to approach this matter and states the following theses:

  • Markets are largely probability-based. Trading depends a lot on randomness, in a much greater extent than more “normal” professions.
  • Success in trading can often be attributed to randomness, not skills. The most successful traders are usually just the most “lucky fools”.
  • The trading records and past investment performance are of little use as there is no connection between past and future results in random environments.
  • People don’t understand randomness and probability. Even scholars in the field often do ridiculous mistakes in considering chances. Those who do understand probabilities often forget to use their knowledge in their daily and professional life.
  • Emotional and psychological traits inherent to humans are the huge obstacles in performing well in something connected with randomness (like Forex market, for example).
  • Moderate informational deprivation is important for a trader to filter “signals” out of the “noise” and keep oneself emotionally uplifted.
  • Traders forget about rare events. They act like something really big and unusual will never happen to their strategy. In real world, rare events are destroying accounts of even the most successful traders.
  • Modern economical science is far away from being a real “science”, while is ridden with all sorts of scientists, failing to see their own mistakes.
  • Overfitting of trading strategies (or overoptimization for expert advisors) and seeking the causality in correlation is a big and popular mistake of the financial traders.
  • Traders can’t (and don’t want to) get rid of emotions — randomness can control the outcome of their positions and thus their emotions, but they can still control their behavior. A dignity in one’s behavior even in face of losses is most effective response to the kicks of fortune.

I wouldn’t even call this book a “trading book” or a “coach book” as it’s full of aestheticism intrinsic to the “real literature” and lacks the “teaching mood” of the “self-growth books”. To sum up the advantages of Fooled by Randomness:

  • The biggest advantage is its topic, which was rarely touched by other financial writers.
  • Smooth reading — I often had to take action to stop reading it :-).
  • A lot of interesting points and no-nonsense ideas.
  • Perfect examples for even the most difficult cases of probability problems.

Of course, it’s not without the disadvantages:

  • Books’ general structure is rather dim and there are unexpected “hops” from topic to topic.
  • The language used is far more rich and complex (to me as non-native speaker) compared to some other trading books I’ve read. It’s not a big disadvantage but it had me looking into a dictionary countless times.
  • It doesn’t teach how to trade but rather shows how not to trade. That’s not a disadvantage for me but I’m sure many readers will be disappointed.

I must say that Fooled by Randomness really impressed me. It’s a rare case of a trading book being useful even if you aren’t going to trade in your life. And it’s a book that can help you decide not to go that path. Unfortunately, it’s not available for a free download, but it’s worth every penny of its price. I hope to Nassim’s newer book on randomness, The Black Swan, soon.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding Fooled by Randomness, please feel free to reply in the comments below.

5 Responses to “Book Review: Fooled by Randomness (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)”

  1. Automatic Trading

    Great book review! I agree, to trade successfully let a forex trading robot that has no emotions trade for you it is automatic!

    Reply

    admin Reply:

    Actually, most Forex robots are results of the huge misunderstanding of the probabilities and the markets.

    Reply

  2. Casey Stubbs

    Thanks for sharing. I never considered traders to be lucky, I always thought that they had to be good. I hope that you can do more book reviews in the future.

    Thanks

    Casey

    Reply

  3. Paul from Silver Coast Finest

    to trade successfully let a forex trading robot do it,,

    Reply

    admin Reply:

    WTF?

    Reply

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