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The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (Incerto) Paperback – October 25, 2016
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“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
Taleb’s books have been published in forty-one languages.
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This is short book, easy to read, and even when you disagree with Taleb, he is humorous enough not to lose you. Indeed, I find his aphoristic writing to be easier to read stylistically than his more journalistic and extended think piece works. In many senses, these aphorisms prove that Taleb is a practical philosopher, but not necessarily a precise or consistent one. Yet the theme of the need of epistemic humility and the robustness of moral and aesthetic visions versus knowledge claims dominate the value.
To put in perspective why I like this book, if you read Spanish, you can find on the Spanish version of wikiquotes a list of several hundred aphorisms drawn from the works of Cervantes that are very much worth reading. Read a few dozen of those, for free, and compare them with the aphorisms in this book, that is a good exercise, trust me. Many of those quotes have been translated into English, look for them. Many of the aphorisms in this book are at the level of Cervantes.
To say it another way: Well this book is in English, and the author has not written any novels, but there are very many insights, in a line or two, that are worth reading.
That being said, the author lives in a slightly different milieu than almost any other author whose book you might read ...
so take that into account.
For example, the recurrent advice to be an entrepreneur instead of a wage slave is good, but remember that the best way to be an entrepreneur is to have a fall-back option if one's entrepreneurship fails .... which almost all attempts at entrepreneurship actually wind up doing (failing - that is why they are valuable - taking the risks that have the potential to be useful for all of us). So any advice to take risks has to be considered in that context.
The recurrent advice to be brutally honest is good unless you are the sort of person who is able, whether he wants to or not, to be so brutally honest that you discourage people who would otherwise be on your side on those occasions (maybe rare, if you are like most people I know, maybe not so rare, if you are like those people who are the people whose friendship is the Great Reward God has given me in this world). There is no virtue in being brutally honest with people who do not prosper when leaders who do not know the difference between brutal honesty and constructive criticism are the only leaders they know.
Everything in context.
With that said, this book feels overpriced for what it is (relative to the similarly priced, but far denser volumes in the Incerto series). I would also recommend against the Kindle version – its format lends itself better to being consumed in small chunks, by flipping through it in physical form. It would also make a wonderful as a coffee table piece.
Top international reviews
Love that he sets the challenge at the start to work out the central theme. Don’t want to read the post face till I’ve figured it out, a bit stumped right now.
It is a shame it is not in couplets or quatrains as the would be easier to memorise. Great author and great original thinker.
Some of the aphorisms rang true. Some were profound and some were not. Some were downright dumb. But the value of aphorisms is to be gathered from what one makes of them. Apart from the Greek myth of the Procrustean bed (what attracted me to the book in first place) dealt with in the two pages of the preface, only a few aphorisms gave me pause and made me think. Most of them seemed run-of-mill repetitions.
For a $ 4 million advance to Taleb on the book and the love other readers have for this particular work, perhaps this book is targeted towards those who have read his earlier work and are cued in to certain phenomenon.
I gave it 3 stars instead of 2.5, because while I did not find many Taleb's aphorisms pertinent or up-to-the-mark does not mean that they wrong or right. So I would like to rate it so-so (and not bad), leaving other readers to make up their own minds.
The book has a decent quality cover paper with matte finish. The illuminated letters effect on the front actually comes across as blurred and pirated. It seems intentional on part of Penguin though I don't know why.
The inside pages are cream-hued with legible printing and a decent font size. The book bought for INR 236 at amazon.in (MRP 399) has inner pages that positively resemble a mass paperback of low to medium paper quality.