As regular readers know, I’m working my way through a very interesting book called The Black Swan, which was recommended to me in the comments. Written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, it’s a treatise on the commonsensical idea that it’s not life’s little ups and downs that are the real threat, but rather the bottomless pits that no one anticipates that pose the greater risk.
When I say that the author is smart I’m not condoning the author’s colossal ego, or his tendency to cloak bullying in humor and pranks. But he really is smart: and particularly so in that outside-the-box kind of way that you need to be to make any kind of difference these days. Which is obviously why Random House, a major publisher, decided to publish Taleb’s book, and why the New York Times made the book a bestseller.
But as everyone knows, it takes a lot of people to put out a book by any given author. And when you’re dealing with the kind of brain wattage behind this text, and these kinds of complex, difficult-to-grasp ideas, you’re going to need that many more people to pitch in and help, and they’re going to need to be that much smarter than regular pitcher-inners. All the normal line editing, fact checking and content editing that goes into your average book needs to be done by people equally qualified to wrestle with the content of that book, so here you know the line-up of bright lights in the acknowledgments for The Black Swan is going to be pretty impressive.
And it is. (And let me also say that the acknowledgments are the best acknowledgments I’ve ever read: funny, sharp and full of detail that brings alive the author’s relationship to the acknowledged.) Here are a few samples of the kind of penetrating analysis that The Black Swan was subjected to:
…Rolf Dobelli, the novelist, entrepreneur and voracious reader, kept up with the various versions of the text.
Peter Bevelin, an erudite and pure “thinking doer”…scrutinized the text.
Yechezkel Zilber, a Jeruslame-based ideas-starved autodidact who sees the word ab ovo, from the egg, asked very tough questions, to the point of making me ashamed of the formal education I received…
The scholar Philip Tetlock, who knows more about prediction than anyone since the Delphic times, went through the manuscript and scrutinized my arguments.
And that’s only half of the first paragraph (which is more than one single-spaced page in length). In total, more than one hundred individuals are named, along with groups of people such as the “staff at Random House”. Given the intellectual pedigree of many of these people, and the degree to which Random House’s own reputation as a distinguished publishing house was on the line, it seems to me that there may have been more brain power aimed at this book — at getting it right in every respect — than may ever be aimed at any self-published work from now until the end of time.
All of which makes me wonder, why, on page 80, I ended up reading this:
For a while, the name Central Park will conjure up the image of that that poor, undeserving man lying on the polluted grass.
This is why publishing is for professionals. If you tried to publish a sentence like that on your own, without the help of 100+ noted professionals and scholars, and without the backing of a publishing house steeped in the traditions and tribulations of the book-making industry, it would have two typos.
— Mark Barrett