Thursday, October 08, 2009, posted by Q6 at 2:06 PM
I can't remember the last time I started a book and didn't finish it. Even if a book sucks, I'll plod through to the end (hoping it will make a sudden qualitative upturn, or else to be able to complain about the entire book when I'm done). In this case, though, I couldn't do it.

The risk you take when you read nonfiction: scientific processes may be explain in mind-numbing detail, historical happenings may include painful asides and irrelevant backstories, and opinionated essays sometimes rant for fifty pages to make a ten page argument. Sadly, the book I was reading did all of the above.

That's not to say that Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable isn't a good book. The premise--that there are certain things in this world that cannot be predicted at all--is a good one, and there are some great explanations, good points made about how we interpret indicators, and some very simple examples of why we really can't trust a lot of the predictions we tend to make. There are also, however, long-winded rants about philosophical theory, constant references to the author's personal upbringing and former career, and (coming in around the 66% mark--I was reading on the Kindle) a banal narrative about applying his theory to reality . . . one that seemed, when I put the book down, without end. All in all, this book was in deperate need of a red pen and should have been about half its length.

I feel just a little bit like a failure, having put the book down without finishing it. In a way, I feel like the book won. Which is a stupid way to think, really.

What have I learned from reading this book? I've learned two things: (1) we probably never could have predicted 9/11, only reacted in the aftermath, and anyone who had suggested (on 9/10 or before) that we make cockpit doors lockable and bulletproof would have been dismissed as over precautionary; (2) when I decide to put down a book and not finish it, I must not take it as a personal failure and just move on.

So I've picked up Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and after that I'll read Orwell's 1984. It's been 20+ years since I've read either one, so they'll both seem new to me.