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The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (Incerto) Hardcover – November 30, 2010


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The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (Incerto) + Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (Incerto) + Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto)
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Product Details

  • Series: Incerto
  • Hardcover: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st Printing edition (November 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400069971
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400069972
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (129 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

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
 

About the Author

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has devoted his life to problems of uncertainty, probability, and knowledge. He spent nearly two decades as a businessman and quantitative trader before becoming a full-time philosophical essayist and academic researcher in 2006. Although he spends most of his time in the intense seclusion of his study, or as a flâneur meditating in cafés, he is currently Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute. His main subject matter is “decision making under opacity”—that is, a map and a protocol on how we should live in a world we don’t understand.
 
Taleb’s books have been published in thirty-three languages.

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

Customer Reviews

Taleb's book of Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms is annoyingly brilliant.
James J Abodeely
I just finished my first pass and am not disappointed (and will need to read the book again, probably many times).
Irfan A. Alvi
I didn't mind spending 35 minutes to read something that appeared to be written in 35 hours.
greyhalo

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

147 of 163 people found the following review helpful By ewomack TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By James J Abodeely on March 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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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46 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Theodore A. Rushton on 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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