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Editors and black swans

I’m reading The Black Swan, The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Very engaging and provocative. I’d especially recommend it to journalists and economists, whose work he skewers.

But the reason I’m writing here returns to the point I made last week about importance of editors. Taleb views editors as busybodies who cut out all the interesting detours and rambles from a book and narrow it. His book includes all of these detours and jokes (good and bad). Sometimes piercingly smart, often charming, often unclear. If anyone edited The Black Swan, they did it with a very light touch. And that’s the way Taleb wants it, because a meandering book offers all sorts of ideas. And any one of them might connect with us and create a serendipitous spark. The book is unpredictable, like life, and Taleb would have it no other way.

And yet, if a lightly edited book meanders and repeats, I imagine that many readers will not have the patience for it. And every reader it loses halfway through is a lost opportunity for a serendipitous connection.

So what’s better for serendipity: a sloppy book with all kinds of interesting odds and ends, or a neatly edited book that hordes can finish on a cross-country plane ride?

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