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The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (Incerto) [Kindle Edition]

Nassim Nicholas Taleb
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (138 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The Bed of Procrustes is a standalone book in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s landmark Incerto series, an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision-making in a world we don’t understand. The other books in the series are Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, and Antifragile.

By the author of the modern classic The Black Swan, this collection of aphorisms and meditations expresses his major ideas in ways you least expect.

The Bed of Procrustes takes its title from Greek mythology: the story of a man who made his visitors fit his bed to perfection by either stretching them or cutting their limbs. It represents Taleb’s view of modern civilization’s hubristic side effects—modifying humans to satisfy technology, blaming reality for not fitting economic models, inventing diseases to sell drugs, defining intelligence as what can be tested in a classroom, and convincing people that employment is not slavery.

Playful and irreverent, these aphorisms will surprise you by exposing self-delusions you have been living with but never recognized.

With a rare combination of pointed wit and potent wisdom, Taleb plows through human illusions, contrasting the classical values of courage, elegance, and erudition against the modern diseases of nerdiness, philistinism, and phoniness.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews


Praise for Nassim Nicholas Taleb
“The most prophetic voice of all.” —GQ
“The hottest thinker in the world.” —Bryan Appleyard, The Sunday Times (London)
“[Taleb writes] in a style that owes as much to Stephen Colbert as it does to Michel de Montaigne.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Idiosyncratically brilliant.” —Niall Ferguson, Los Angeles Times

From the Hardcover edition.


Like Twain and Wilde before him, Taleb eats paradoxes for breakfast...The aphorism is Taleb to a tee. It showcases his wit and learning, and provides ways to fillet his enemies. All his usual suspects are present to be corrected: bankers, fools, politicians, journalists...Present, too, are his heroes: the curious, the intellectually anarchistic, the idle philosopher. -- James Kidd Independent on Sunday [A] quirky, entertaining collection of aphorisms, covering everything from the web ("like a verbally incontinent person") to the injuriousness of doing too much work ("My idea of the sabbatical is to work for (part of) a day and rest for six") ... a wry, often hila-rious glimpse. -- Robert Collins The Times

Product Details

  • File Size: 124 KB
  • Print Length: 136 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1846144582
  • Publisher: Random House (November 30, 2010)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004C43F9S
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,799 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
150 of 166 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who could have predicted this? Another Black Swan? December 4, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In 2007 Nassim Taleb depicted the then current financial situation in America as a brittle house of cards. The subsequent economic crash and burn made his reputation as a seer, though Taleb would never claim prophesy in any form. "I know nothing about the future," he told the Long Now Foundation in February, 2008. He deals not with prediction, but with the unknown, or how humans fail to deal with the unknown, throw it under the carpet and pretend it doesn't exist. "The Black Swan" has become Taleb's symbol for the world's inherent unpredictability. The runaway best seller of the same name has seemingly redefined reality itself for some. From this point on the world looks fuzzier. Taleb has since spread his Black Swan-ism everywhere, and people are listening. But how to follow up such a magnum opus? As if to prove the unpredictability of the world, Taleb releases a thin volume of... aphorisms. Could anyone have expected this? The previously verbose wizard of the unknown takes on the most laconic textual genre next to haiku. Didn't aphorisms go out with Cioran? Not to mention that the book's title sounds right out of 1890: "The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms." In recent speeches Taleb has announced that he's now a philosopher. He apparently meant it. But he's still not predicting the future.

This very tiny volume, readable in a short sitting, delineates Taleb's thought in a very different manner than his previous books. It also takes on some new subjects. A short introduction frames the aphorisms to follow. Here the charming tale of Procrustes gets juxtaposed with our modern sensibilities. But the comparison seems appropriate.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Arrogance of the highest order. Loved it. March 6, 2011
Taleb's book of Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms is annoyingly brilliant. I am aware of no other intellect who can offer truisms in such an offensive, condescending, righteous, and elitist manner while also endearing, educating, enlightening, and inspiring.

The one word that has always come to mind when I think of Nassim Taleb is ARROGANT. Based on his aphorism, it sounds like I'm not the only one:

"People reserve standard compliments for those who do not threaten their pride; the others they often praise by calling 'arrogant.'"

And he's right. Again. Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan made it clear to the world that Taleb is a first class thinker who can KNOW, to paraphrase one his sayings, a priori what most can only learn a posteriori. The Bed of Procrustes offers readers a much more robust insight into Taleb's world view and process which is ultimately quite useful for those who seek to find a deeper understanding of the complex world we live in. It may not be surprising that this deeper understanding that Taleb possesses stems from a pursuit that is at odds with the modern, scientific, technological approach to knowledge, but is rooted in one's ability to remove oneself from constraints, biases, artificial effort, and political and societal norms.

Taleb's aphorisms (short form writings which contain deep meaning) manage to tell us how to generate ideas without thinking, achieve progress without working, and reveal mysteries without looking. His targets include fields which rely heavily on the idea that what we know is more robust than what we don't (economics, medicine, academia), those which rely on popular acceptance to be considered influential (politics, journalism, literature) and all who are enslaved by a predictable existence.
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48 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What's the rush? Slow down and think ..... December 3, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An intriguing book based on an interesting thesis, well presented, in saying "we humans, facing limits of knowledge, and things we do not observe, the unseen and the unknown, resolve the tension by squeezing life and the world into crisp commoditized ideas ..."

"The person you are most afraid to contradict is yourself," Taleb begins, and shortly after continues, "to bankrupt a fool, give him information."

Okay, I declare bankruptcy. These aphorisms are an eloquent Luddite protest against the madcap technological excesses and follies of the modern world. I agree. Every new technology blossoms into excess, then retreats into practical use as newer ideas develop. Obsidian was once a new idea in cutting; but, anything this good soon evolved into ornaments and other impractical uses.

It's the inevitable fate of all new technology and all new ideas. All good ideas become complicated into absurdity, until wiser people ask, "Just what are we trying to accomplish here?"

Taleb is a wise man asking such questions, and this book is one of questions and relevant observations. It's the same question anyone with a cell phone and the choice of 250,000 apps might ask, like Taleb, "Why?" and the answer is "I dunno."

In brief, this is an eloquent plea to slow down and think.

What's missing is a recognition of human curiosity which creates all technology, from obsidian blades to Blackberrys. It's a book devoid of curiosity, of Rudyard Kipling's Five Faithful Serving Men and the journalist's eternal questions, "Who? What? Why? When? How?"

Of course, I'm not aware of the Luddites having many answers. But, Taleb, like those who sit and refuse to budge do serve to remind the rest of us that scurrying about accomplishes little. More power to him, and to those who ask, "Is this trip necessary?"
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem. Witty sayings that will make you think ...
A gem. Witty sayings that will make you think or scratch your head. One finds real nuggets of wisdom here,regardless of whether you agree with each and every aphorism. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Sol
4.0 out of 5 stars taleb gets it.
Having read all the Taleb's books this one gives a different perspective on situations. It is a complement on the other books. Read more
Published 21 days ago by CHRISTIAN D KNUDSEN
5.0 out of 5 stars A very short book that can be read in about ...
A very short book that can be read in about 2 hours,nonetheless, it packs many wise and witty aphorisms that will surely impress you.
Published 21 days ago by J.I
4.0 out of 5 stars It was still a great read, but you have to go into it ...
This book was somewhat different than his other books. It was still a great read, but you have to go into it realizes this is more philosophical than economic or technical. Read more
Published 24 days ago by Charlie G
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't lie down!
A delight to read and then re-read. I have read all of Taleb's books and all have contributed to my understanding of the complex world in which we live. Read more
Published 1 month ago by HibernianDigger
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, Easy-to-Read, Even Humourous At Times!
Concise nuggets of 'wisdom'! Easy-to-read and enjoyable; at times humourous and cheerfully funny.
Published 1 month ago by YLJ
2.0 out of 5 stars This is a rehash of the other works by this ...
This is a rehash of the other works by this author, which made it disappointing for me. It may be helpful to those who have never read him.
Published 1 month ago by Terry Verduin
5.0 out of 5 stars good
Published 1 month ago by Yi He
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Published 2 months ago by ORD
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 4 months ago by gustavo petra
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More About the Author

Nassim Nicholas Taleb spent two decades as a trader and risk taker before becoming a full-time essayist and scholar focusing on practical, philosophical and mathematical problems with chance, luck, and probability. His focus in on how different systems handle disorder.

Taleb is currently Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University's School of Engineering, but he spends most of his time in the intense seclusion of his study, or as a flâneur meditating in cafés.

He is the author of the Incerto (latin for uncertainty), accessible in any order (Antifragile, The Black Swan, The Bed of Procrustes, and Fooled by Randomness) plus a freely available technical version, Silent Risk. Taleb has also published close to 40 academic and scholarly papers as a backup, technical footnotes to the Incerto. Taleb's books have more than 100 translations in 35 languages.

Taleb believes that prizes, honorary degrees, awards, and ceremonialism debase knowledge by turning it into a spectator sport.

""Imagine someone with the erudition of Pico de la Mirandola, the skepticism of Montaigne, solid mathematical training, a restless globetrotter, polyglot, enjoyer of fine wines, specialist of financial derivatives, irrepressible reader, and irascible to the point of readily slapping a disciple." La Tribune (Paris)

A giant of Mediterranean thought ... Now the hottest thinker in the world", London Times

"The most prophetic voice of all" GQ

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