Nassim Taleb Book Recommendations
For many reasons, best-selling author Nassim Taleb and books simply go hand in hand, whether we’re talking his favorite business classics, spiritually enlightening texts, or behavior-related titles.
“The minute I was bored with a book or a subject I moved to another one, instead of giving up on reading altogether – when you are limited to the school material and you get bored, you have a tendency to give up and do nothing or play hooky out of discouragement,” he says. “The trick is to be bored with a specific book, rather than with the act of reading. So the number of the pages absorbed could grow faster than otherwise. And you find gold, so to speak, effortlessly, just as in rational but undirected trial-and-error-based research.”
Reading has clearly played a profound role in shaping him as a person, and furthermore, this favorite educational activity of his must have had something to do with the spirited – and rewarding for that matter – approach he takes to life.
Therefore, in order to get to the bottom of what inspired a most capable individual to the heights of financial prosperity, we’ve compiled this list of 20 inspirational books Nassim Taleb has read himself and would certainly recommend to others as well.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Engaging the reader in a lively conversation about how we think, Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. He offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives, and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble.
Source: Taleb describes this as “a landmark book in social thought, in the same league as The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud.”
Zero to One by Peter Theil
The great secret of our time is that there are still uncharted frontiers to explore and new inventions to create. In Zero to One, legendary entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel shows how we can find singular ways to create those new things.
Thiel begins with the contrarian premise that we live in an age of technological stagnation, even if we’re too distracted by shiny mobile devices to notice. Information technology has improved rapidly, but there is no reason why progress should be limited to computers or Silicon Valley. Progress can be achieved in any industry or area of business. It comes from the most important skill that every leader must master: learning to think for yourself.
Doing what someone else already knows how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. Tomorrow’s champions will not win by competing ruthlessly in today’s marketplace. They will escape competition altogether, because their businesses will be unique.
Source: “When a risk taker writes a book, read it,” Taleb says. “In the case of Peter Theil, read it twice. Or, to be safe, three times. This is a classic.”
The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher F. Chabris
Again and again, we think we experience and understand the world as it is, but our thoughts are beset by everyday illusions. We write traffic laws and build criminal cases on the assumption that people will notice when something unusual happens right in front of them. We’re sure we know where we were on 9/11, falsely believing that vivid memories are seared into our minds with perfect fidelity. And as a society, we spend billions on devices to train our brains because we’re continually tempted by the lure of quick fixes and effortless self-improvement.
The Invisible Gorilla reveals the myriad ways that our intuitions can deceive us, but it’s much more than a catalog of human failings. Chabris and Simons explain why we succumb to these everyday illusions and what we can do to inoculate ourselves against their effects. Ultimately, the book provides a kind of x-ray vision into our own minds, making it possible to pierce the veil of illusions that clouds our thoughts and to think clearly for perhaps the first time.
Source: “The illusion of attention is one of the most important, surprising, and least known flaws in human thinking. This lucid book examines it in detail,” Taleb notes.
Blueprint by Nicholas A. Christakis
For too long, scientists have focused on the dark side of our biological heritage: our capacity for aggression, cruelty, prejudice, and self-interest. But natural selection has given us a suite of beneficial social features, including our capacity for love, friendship, cooperation, and learning. Beneath all of our inventions – our tools, farms, machines, cities, nations – we carry with us innate proclivities to make a good society.
In a world of increasing political and economic polarization, it’s tempting to ignore the positive role of our evolutionary past. But by exploring the ancient roots of goodness in civilization, Blueprint shows that our genes have shaped societies for our welfare and that, in a feedback loop stretching back many thousands of years, societies are still shaping our genes today.
Source: “Excited to get [this book] as I am trying to go deeper into the notion of fractal (multiscale) localism,” Taleb tweeted in 2019.
The Formula by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi
Too often, accomplishment does not equal success. We did the work but didn’t get the promotion; we played hard but weren’t recognized; we had the idea but didn’t get the credit. We convince ourselves that talent combined with a strong work ethic is the key to getting ahead, but also realize that combination often fails to yield results, without any deeper understanding as to why.
Recognizing this striking disconnect, the author, along with a team of renowned researchers and some of the most advanced data-crunching systems on the planet, dedicated themselves to one goal: uncovering that ever-elusive link between performance and success.
Source: One of the select books Nassim Taleb has written an editorial review on, he remarked, “This is not just an important but an imperative project: to approach the problem of randomness and success using the state of the art scientific arsenal we have. Barabasi is the person.”
Explaining Social Behavior by Jon Elster
Jon Elster examines the nature of social behavior, proposing choice as the central concept of the social sciences. The book offers an overview of key explanatory mechanisms, drawing on many case studies and experiments to explore the nature of explanation in the social sciences; an analysis of the mental states – beliefs, desires, and emotions – that are precursors to action; a systematic comparison of rational-choice models of behavior with alternative accounts, and a review of mechanisms of social interaction ranging from strategic behavior to collective decision making.
Source: “Simply the best,” Taleb wrote in a review. “I read it twice.”
The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker
One of the world’s leading experts on language and the mind explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. With characteristic wit, lucidity, and insight, Pinker argues that the dogma that the mind has no innate traits – a doctrine held by many intellectuals during the past century – denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces objective analyses of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our understanding of politics, violence, parenting, and the arts.
Injecting calm and rationality into debates that are notorious for ax-grinding and mud-slinging, Pinker shows the importance of an honest acknowledgment of human nature based on science and common sense.
Source: “The book is a great exposition of modern scientific thinking and understanding of the nature of man,” Taleb explains.
Perilous Interventions by Hardeep Singh Puri
It was an exclusive lunch at a high-end Manhattan restaurant on 7 March 2011. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his A-team were present. It soon became clear that the main item on the menu was Libya, where it was alleged that the forces of Muammar Gaddafi were advancing on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi to crush all opposition. Over an $80 per head lunch, a small group of the world’s most important diplomats from countries represented on the Security Council discussed the possibility of the use of force.
As things turned out, the Council’s authorization came only ten days later, and all hell broke loose.
Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s envoy to the UN at the time, now reveals the Council’s whimsical decision-making and the ill-thought-out itch to intervene on the part of some of its permanent members. This gem among books Nassim Taleb recommends shows how some recent instances of the use of force – not just in Libya but also in Syria, Yemen and Crimea, as well as India’s misadventure in Sri Lanka in the 1980s – have gone disastrously wrong.
Source: “This is an outstanding book on the side effects of interventionism, written in extremely elegant prose and with maximal clarity,” Taleb explains. “This book should be mandatory reading to every student and practitioner of foreign affairs.”
Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes
For decades we have been taught that fat is bad for us, carbohydrates better, and that the key to a healthy weight is eating less and exercising more. Yet despite this advice, we have seen unprecedented epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Taubes argues that the problem lies in refined carbohydrates, like white flour, easily digested starches, and sugars, and that the key to good health is the kind of calories we take in, not the number.
Source: Taleb shares that he “read it twice, once for the diet, once as a rich document in the history of science.”
Alchemy by Rory Sutherland
Why is Red Bull so popular, though everyone – everyone! – hates the taste? Humans are, in a word, irrational, basing decisions as much on subtle external signals (that little blue can) as on objective qualities (flavor, price, quality). The surrounding world, meanwhile, is irreducibly complex and random. This means future success can’t be projected on any accounting spreadsheet. To strike gold, you must master the dark art and curious science of conjuring irresistible ideas: alchemy.
Based on thirty years of field work inside the largest experiment in human behavior ever conceived – the forever-unfolding pageant of consumer capitalism – Alchemy, the revolutionary book by Ogilvy advertising legend Rory Sutherland, whose TED talks have been viewed nearly seven million times, decodes human behavior, blending leading-edge scientific research, absurdly entertaining storytelling, deep psychological insight, and practical case studies from his storied career working on campaigns for AmEx, Microsoft, and others.
Source: One of the select books Nassim Taleb has written an editorial review on, he remarked, “this is a breakthrough book. Alchemy is wonderfully applicable to about everything in life. Furthermore, it is funny as hell.”
Seeking Wisdom by Peter Bevelin
Peter Bevelin begins his fascinating book with Confucius’ great wisdom: “A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it, is committing another mistake.” Seeking Wisdom is the result of Bevelin’s learning about attaining wisdom.
In addition to naturalist Charles Darwin and Berkshire Hathaway vice-chairman Charlie Munger, Bevelin cites an encyclopedic range of thinkers: from first-century BCE Roman poet Publius Terentius to Mark Twain – from Albert Einstein to Richard Feynman – from 16th Century French essayist Michel de Montaigne to billionaire Warren Buffett. In the book, he describes ideas and research findings from many different fields.
Source: “A wonderful book on wisdom and decision-making written by a wise decision-maker,” Taleb expounds upon. “This is the kind of book you read first, then leave by your bedside and re-read a bit every day, so you can slowly soak up the wisdom. It is sort of Montaigne but applied to business, with a great investigation of the psychological dimension of decision-making.”
Market Wizards by Jack D. Schwager
How do the world’s most successful traders amass tens, hundreds of millions of dollars a year? Are they masters of an occult knowledge, lucky winners in a random market lottery, natural born virtuoso – Mozarts of the markets?
In search of an answer, bestselling author Jack D. Schwager interviewed dozens of top traders across most financial markets. While their responses differed in the details, all of them could be boiled down to the same essential formula: solid methodology + proper mental attitude = trading success.
In Market Wizards Schwager lets you hear, in their own words, what those super traders had to say about their unprecedented successes, and he distills their responses down into a set of guiding principles you can use to become a trading star in your own right.
Source: One of the select books Nassim Taleb has written an editorial review on, he remarked, “I’ve read the book at several stages of my career as it shows the staying power of good down-to-earth wisdoms of true practitioners with skin in the game…twenty years from now, it will still be fresh. There is no other like it.”
The Science of Conjecture by James Franklin
How did we make reliable predictions before Pascal and Fermat’s discovery of the mathematics of probability in 1654? What methods in law, science, commerce, philosophy, and logic helped us to get at the truth in cases where certainty was not attainable? In this gem among books Nassim Taleb recommends, the author examines how judges, witch inquisitors, and juries evaluated evidence; how scientists weighed reasons for and against scientific theories; and how merchants counted shipwrecks to determine insurance rates.
Source: “Stands above, way above other books on the history and philosophy of probability,” Taleb writes.
Deep Learning by Ian Goodfellow
Deep learning is a form of machine learning that enables computers to learn from experience and understand the world in terms of a hierarchy of concepts. Because the computer gathers knowledge from experience, there is no need for a human computer operator to formally specify all the knowledge that the computer needs.
The hierarchy of concepts allows the computer to learn complicated concepts by building them out of simpler ones; a graph of these hierarchies would be many layers deep. This book introduces a broad range of topics in deep learning.
Source: “Very clear exposition, does the math without getting lost in the details,” Taleb says. “Although many of the concepts of the introductory first 100 pages can be found elsewhere, they are presented with remarkable cut-to-the-chase clarity.”
The Dao of Capital by Mark Spitznagel
In The Dao of Capital, hedge fund manager and tail-hedging pioneer Mark Spitznagel – with one of the top returns on capital of the financial crisis, as well as over a career – takes us on a gripping, circuitous journey from the Chicago trading pits, over the coniferous boreal forests and canonical strategists from Warring States China to Napoleonic Europe to burgeoning industrial America, to the great economic thinkers of late 19th century Austria.
We arrive at his central investment methodology of Austrian Investing, where victory comes not from waging the immediate decisive battle, but rather from the roundabout approach of seeking the intermediate positional advantage (what he calls shi), of aiming at the indirect means rather than directly at the ends. The monumental challenge is in seeing time differently, in a whole new intertemporal dimension, one that is so contrary to our wiring.
Source: One of the select books Nassim Taleb has written an editorial review on, he remarked, “at last, a real book by a real risk-taking practitioner. The Dao of Capital mixes (rather, unifies) personal risk-taking with explanations of global phenomena. You cannot afford not to read this!”
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
A popular bestseller since its publication in 1844, The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the great page-turning thrillers of all time. Set against the tumultuous years of the post-Napoleonic era, Alexandre Dumas’s grand historical romance recounts the swashbuckling adventures of Edmond Dantes, a dashing young sailor falsely accused of treason. The story of his long imprisonment, dramatic escape, and carefully wrought revenge offers up a vision of France that has become immortal.
Source: “This treasure will prevent you from enjoying other novels,” Taleb says.
Hopping Over the Rabbit Hole by Anthony Scaramucci
Hopping over the Rabbit Hole chronicles the rise, fall, and resurgence of SkyBridge Capital founder Anthony Scaramucci, giving you a primer on how to thrive in an unpredictable business environment. The sheer number of American success stories has created a false impression that becoming an entrepreneur is a can’t-miss endeavor – but nothing could be further from the truth. In the real world, an entrepreneur batting .150 goes directly to the Hall of Fame. Things happen. You make a bad hire, a bad strategic decision, or suffer the consequences of an unforeseen market crash.
You can’t control what happens to your business, but you can absolutely control how you react, and how you turn bumps in the road into ramps to the sky. Anthony Scaramucci has been there and done that, again and again, and has ultimately come out on top; in this book, he shares what he wishes he knew then.
Source: One of the select books Nassim Taleb has written an editorial review on, he remarked, “this is something exceptionally rare in the entrepreneurship literature: someone telling you how he overcame his problems and made lemonade out of lemons. Anthony has skin in the game. He is funny, direct, deep, and insightful. The book is so gripping you can read it standing up. A must read.”
Scale by Geoffrey West
Fascinated by aging and mortality, West applied the rigor of a physicist to the biological question of why we live as long as we do and no longer. The result was astonishing, and changed science: West found that despite the riotous diversity in mammals, they are all, to a large degree, scaled versions of each other. If you know the size of a mammal, you can use scaling laws to learn everything from how much food it eats per day, what its heart-rate is, how long it will take to mature, its lifespan, and so on.
Furthermore, the efficiency of the mammal’s circulatory systems scales up precisely based on weight: if you compare a mouse, a human and an elephant on a logarithmic graph, you find with every doubling of average weight, a species gets 25% more efficient – and lives 25% longer. Fundamentally, he has proven, the issue has to do with the fractal geometry of the networks that supply energy and remove waste from the organism’s body.
The implications of these discoveries are far-reaching, and are just beginning to be explored. Scale is a thrilling scientific adventure story about the elemental natural laws that bind us together in simple but profound ways. Through the brilliant mind of Geoffrey West, we can envision how cities, companies and biological life alike are dancing to the same simple, powerful tune.
Source: One of the select books Nassim Taleb has written an editorial review on, he remarked, “each human should learn to read and write, to count, and for those who know how to count, scalability. Scaling is the most important yet most hidden and rarely discussed attribute – without understanding it one cannot possibly understand the world. This book will expand your thinking from three dimensions to four. Get two copies, just in case you lose one.”
Who We Are and How We Got Here by David Reich
In Who We Are and How We Got Here, Reich allows readers to discover how the human genome provides not only all the information a human embryo needs to develop but also the hidden story of our species. Reich delves into how the genomic revolution is transforming our understanding of modern humans and how DNA studies reveal deep inequalities among different populations, between the sexes, and among individuals. Provocatively, Reich’s book suggests that there might very well be biological differences among human populations but that these differences are unlikely to conform to common stereotypes.
Source: “Finally, science enters historical fields,” Taleb writes.
Models.Behaving.Badly by Emanuel Derman
In this penetrating insider’s look at the recent economic collapse, Emanuel Derman – former head quant at Goldman Sachs – explains the collision between mathematical modeling and economics and what makes financial models so dangerous. Though such models imitate the style of physics and employ the language of mathematics, theories in physics aim for a description of reality – but in finance, models can shoot only for a very limited approximation of reality.
Derman uses his firsthand experience in financial theory and practice to explain the complicated tangles that have paralyzed the economy. This gem among books Nassim Taleb recommends exposes Wall Street’s love affair with models, and shows us why nobody will ever be able to write a model that can encapsulate human behavior.
Source: One of the select books Nassim Taleb has written an editorial review on, he remarked, “[the author] convincingly establishes the difference between model and theory and shows why attempts to model financial markets can never be genuinely scientific. It vindicates those of us who hold that financial modeling is neither practical nor scientific. Exceedingly readable.”
If you enjoyed this guide to books Nassim Taleb recommends, be sure to check out our list of 20 Inspirational Books Ray Dalio Recommends Reading!