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Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto) Paperback – January 28, 2014
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2012: Fragile things break under stress. But, according to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, there's an entire class of other things that don't simply resist stress but actually grow, strengthen, or otherwise gain from unforeseen and otherwise unwelcome stimuli. Taleb sees degrees of antifragility everywhere, from fasting, mythology, and urban planning to economic, technological, cultural, and biological systems. The wealth of radical thinking in this book astounds; the glossary alone offered more thought-provoking ideas than any other nonfiction book I read this year. That said, Antifragile is far from flawless. As comical as Taleb's rough handling of his favorite targets can be--academics, economists, and tourists, to name a few--his argumentative style boasts gaping holes, non sequiturs aplenty, and at times an almost willfully repugnant tone. Some readers will find Taleb's brashness off-putting; others will embrace it as a charismatic component of the ideas themselves. Either way, no one will finish this book unchanged. --Jason Kirk
Judging by his anecdotes, Taleb interacts with the economic masters of the universe as he jets from New York to London or attends business-politics confabs in Davos, Switzerland. Anything but awed by them, Taleb regards them as charlatans, not as credible experts. Such skepticism toward elites, which imbued Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (2007), continues in this work, which grapples with a concept Taleb coins as “antifragile.” Not readily reducible to a definition (Taleb takes the whole book to develop the idea), suffice to say here that antifragile’s opposites—economic, political, or medical systems that are vulnerable to sudden collapse—tend to be managed by highly educated people who think they know how systems work. But they don’t, avers Taleb. Their confidence in control is illusory; their actions harm rather than help. In contrast, Taleb views decentralized systems—the entrepreneurial business rather than the bureaucratized corporation, the local rather than the central government—as more adaptable to systemic stresses. Emphatic in his style and convictions, Taleb grabs readers given to musing how the world works. --Gilbert Taylor
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This book, which introduces and describes the concept of antifragility, is pretty revolutionary. Few books have fundamentally changed the way I think about the world, and this is one of them. My understanding of risk and how to address it has shifted dramatically, and the application of the concepts discussed has yielded surprising results.
That being said, the author is as pretentious as they come. Expect a lot of fancy-pants language for no reason other than to show off, and off-topic stories to illustrate just how much better than the rest of mankind Taleb is.
For example, “We gave the appellation ‘antifragile’ to such a package; a neologism was necessary as there is no simple, noncompound word in the Oxford English Dictionary that expresses the point of reverse fragility.”
It is a frustrating read to say the least. It took me a couple months to slog through this book because of how frequently I wanted to punch Taleb in the teeth, but the content is 100% worth it.
I haven't read many reviews for this book. However, I am sure that there will be a few who will complain about the grammar and syntax Taleb uses when writing the book. While disconcerting at times, you have to look past it. I wouldn't say this about most any author. In a weird sort of way, the variation in grammar and syntax truly makes you more of an antifragile reader! You are more inclined to go back and re-read many of the passages; you are encouraged to take notes. And, like most any book which is worth it's salt, it deserves a second and a third reading to truly grasp the full meaning of what the author is trying to convey.
Be prepared for a bit of a slog - the 5 stars is for the significance of his ideas, not his literary talent. Imagine striking up a conversation at an airport bar with a very smart, slightly drunk aristocrat who grew up in a war-torn Lebanon, returning from a conference full of people he considers spoiled and irresponsible Westerners. Press record. That's how the book reads.
And that image in my head helped me enjoy the book. Taleb is utterly pissed off by an economic and political ruling class that he sees as oblivious to the fragility of the systems they are creating, and so to the catastrophes they are setting us all up for. The book is less a reasoned arguments than an impassioned rallying cry for people to stop drinking the cool-aid of economic and social quick fixes, attempts to overly-isolate people from the natural vicissitudes of life as well as from the consequences of their own actions. We learn and grow from the stressors of life ( up to a point), and this is how we become " antifragile".
What I find especially refreshing is that this thesis really doesn't come across as being either liberal or conservative - Taleb isn't operating along that axis. He is arguing for us to re-value simplicity in systems, learning from and trusting our experience, taking responsibility for our actions, and being "heroic" in the classical sense of working for (and perhaps sacrificing oneself for) the good of others. It is a deeply traditional view, balancing the individual with society and with nature.
Now be warned, this all comes at you in a somewhat inebriated tirade that bounces all over the map, from the mouths of Brooklyn bankers and (occasionally untranslated) classical writers, and illuminated by episodes from Taleb's globe-trotting life that can sometimes get a bit stale. But that's exactly how you have to hear it - the style is intentionally over-the-top and excessive, the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" of a former economic insider. But he has the saving graces of a sense of humor and a deep historical sense, that commands your respect more fully than just another pissed-off Fox New pr CNBC commentator with an axe to grind.