89 of 109 people found the following review helpful
An uncertainty-embracing worldview,
This review is from: Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Program (What's this?)How could one give anything less than five stars to a book so filled with insight and erudition? If you have read Taleb's other philosophy books, Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan and The Bed of Procrustes, and sought out the recordings of his rare media appearances (I recommend the EconTalk podcast interviews) you are no doubt anticipating this book as highly as I was.
Although the concept around which the book is based -- antifragility, the property of gaining from disorder and uncertainty -- is freshly named, it is, as Taleb has said, just another way of looking at his one big idea of "convexity". Graph the observed relationship between any two related variables that affect your life. In a world where most effects are non-linear -- ex. double the medicine dose does not make you twice as well -- you can be on the favorable side of the curve or the unfavorable side. If The Black Swan was all about taking 'tail risk' into account -- focusing on just the tail of the curve -- Antifragile is about the entire curve, and how to find shelter under the bend of it where randomness, chaos, unpredictable events, time, stressors and errors strengthen you instead of destroy you.
Taleb has divided Antifragile into six sub-books which apply this idea across a number of domains. In biology, the mechanics of evolution provide a way to continue life despite massive environmental shocks. In medicine, the concept of hormesis, whereby some substance that is harmful in a large amount is beneficial in a small amount, and the "via negativa", subtractive remedies that remove harmful substances have a better upside than additive remedies, prescriptions of new drugs, which can have rare but fatal side-effects, both demonstrate antifragile qualities. In finance, picking options which are long vega or long gamma. In health, the way bones strengthen with impacts and the way healthy bones reduces the hallmarks of aging. In ethics, systems where people have no 'skin in the game' are extremely fragile, those where they have "soul" in the game are antifragile. In politics, nation-states are fragile, decentralized city states (like the Swiss cantons) are anti-fragile.
The sub-books, of course, are divided much more organically, and can be sampled in any order. Although Taleb plans to soon release all his philosophical writings and technical papers as one large book, The Incerto, which can also be sampled in any order, I do not believe random sampling is the optimal way to understand his work. I think a reader with no knowledge of Taleb's ideas should begin either with Fooled by Randomness or The Black Swan, which assume less familiarity with the concepts, and create the building blocks of the larger idea of antifragility.
Knowing how Taleb feels about Platonism, with all due respect I believe there is a better form of Antifragile that could have been published. The book, compared to his others, contains more awkward phrasing and narrative leaps. The introduction refers off-handedly to Fat Tony, a character from his other books, with no contextualizing for new readers. There is nothing that threw me for long, but I've read his previous books multiple times, and have been closely following the development of this one.
Taleb has said he refuses to be edited. This is a mistake. His writing is antifragile to critiques and reformulation. Not that he doesn't submit it to some shocks. He does put out drafts of his chapters online, and has cultivated a salon of erudites on his facebook page, which provided him some excellent insights in the book.
With as many insights and fascinating detours into the history of science and philosophy as this book contains, any infelicities of phrase can be easily overlooked. Antifragile, in its comprehensive exploration of Taleb's 'big idea', makes his previous ones seem like appendices. The second edition of The Black Swan ended with an essay "On Robustness and Fragility". With this book, Taleb moves beyond being robust and resilient into a third realm, the anti-fragile. While it may not enjoy the same initial mass popularity as his previous books, I suspect Antifragile will endure longer, given the power of its ideas.
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Initial post: Nov 29, 2012 7:57:43 AM PST
Thank you for the clear and thoughtful review. I find it interesting that he refuses to be edited as when I've picked up his past trade books such as Black Swan, I found it repetitive and worse condescending/bombastic. Apparently you didn't feel similarly, but I'm curious if any other readers noticed less of that in this book or if you feel it is less so?
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 21, 2013 12:25:43 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 21, 2013 12:26:12 PM PDT
+1 for me on the need for editing. He has numerous opaque turns of phrase or just plain screwy syntax that make the book a chore in many places. Plus his spleen against bankers and academics is tiresome. I avoid people who whine, so having to wade through pissing and moaning when I'm not at work is undesireable. I put up with it because he is really on to something unique, as far as I can tell (that GED only takes me so far).
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