- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Random House (February 27, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780425284629
- ISBN-13: 978-0425284629
- ASIN: 042528462X
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 302 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life Hardcover – February 27, 2018
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Praise for Nassim Nicholas Taleb
“The problem with Taleb is not that he’s an asshole. He is an asshole. The problem with Taleb is that he is right.”—Dan from Prague, Czech Republic (Twitter)
“The most prophetic voice of all . . . [Taleb is] a genuinely significant philosopher . . . someone who is able to change the way we view the structure of the world through the strength, originality and veracity of his ideas alone.”—John Gray, GQ
“Taleb grabs on to core problems that others ignore, or don’t see, and shakes them like an attack dog on a leg.”—Greg from New York (Twitter)
“For my wife and me, Antifragile is an annual reread.”—Colle from Richmond, Virginia (Twitter)
“I read Antifragile four times. First, to get the wisdom to survive. Second, as a memorial statement for Fat Tony. Third, as Das Kapital with correct mathematics. Fourth, as ethics to learn a good way to die.”—Tamitake from Tokyo, Japan (Twitter)
“November . . . time for my annual reread of Antifragile.”—Johann from Vienna, Austria (Twitter)
“[Taleb writes] in a style that owes as much to Stephen Colbert as it does to Michel de Montaigne.”—The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Nassim Nicholas Taleb spent twenty-one years as a risk taker before becoming a researcher in philosophical, mathematical, and (mostly) practical problems with probability. Although he spends most of his time as a flâneur, meditating in cafés across the planet, he is currently Distinguished Professor at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. His books, part of a multivolume collection called Incerto, have been published in thirty-six languages. Taleb has authored more than fifty scholarly papers as backup to Incerto, ranging from international affairs and risk management to statistical physics. Having been described as “a rare mix of courage and erudition,” he is widely recognized as the foremost thinker on probability and uncertainty. Taleb lives mostly in New York.
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When I buy books I usually read one star reviews. Some of them are crap (my book arrived with six missing pages!), but some give you a pretty good idea of what you are going to find. There is one star review that gets close to 5000 words limit, followed by the long thread of comments exchange where the replies by the original author get, again, to the said limit. If someone gets that fired up by the book that he regurgitates thousands of words - it's well worth a few bucks and I simply must read it.
Anyway, as always with Taleb, I now have a new reading list based on his footnotes. Yes, he comes across as an angry man. Yes, he has irrational dislike of academics (as do I) and policy makers. Yes, some of his statements are contradictory and yes, sometimes he goes too far in his arguments. But this is exactly what makes books worthwhile the time spent reading them. Contradictions have to be sorted, but to do so you have to think about the subject and come to your own conclusions, and this involves effort, and this is what makes books stimulating.
I highly recommend this book.
Let’s start with the cons:
1. I certainly won’t be the first to notice that Taleb can be mean-spirited. But why does he insist on presenting his views in this way? The communication of his ideas, often profound, does not require a mean-spirited or condescending tone. For however brilliant Taleb thinks he is, his skills in persuasion are severely lacking; he’s alienating a significant readership that may have otherwise been more receptive to his ideas.
Not very far into the book we see Taleb take cheap shots at Steven Pinker, out of nowhere, discussing a topic that has nothing to do with any of Pinker’s actual ideas or positions. One wonders why Taleb cannot just present his ideas without the incessant personal attacks and condescension.
2. His overall philosophy appears to be self-refuting. He reviles “intellectuals,” professors, and thinkers while praising “doers” and men of practice. He’s particularly distrustful of those who give advice for a living. Here’s Taleb:
“Avoid taking advice from someone who gives advice for a living, unless there is a penalty for their advice.”
So should we then ignore THIS advice? As far as I can tell, Skin in the Game is a work of philosophy, an intellectual exercise that argues against the value of intellectual exercise. This is the same self-refuting logic of relativism—in that the statement “everything is relative” is self-refuting because the statement itself needs to be absolute.
If Taleb is wrong in any part of his philosophy it doesn’t appear that he would incur any penalty (no skin in the game). The upside for him is book sales with little to no downside risk, so by using his own logic we should conclude to not trust him.
Also, to the extent that you believe ideas have power you might find yourself disagreeing with Taleb’s extreme position that no good ideas could possibly come from someone in an academic position (particularly from the reviled economists).
Except that Taleb uses economic theories to frame his thinking. The Tragedy of the Commons, something Taleb discusses in his book, was developed by the economist William Forster Lloyd in his armchair. Even Taleb’s Black Swan concept is a reformulation of the Peso problem developed by...economists.
I’m sure anyone can think up examples, rather easily, of useful ideas that were discovered by intellectuals or from university research.
3. Taleb obsesses about the superiority of practice over academics and theory. This is a questionable proposition.
As just one example, a recent study in the American Journal of Medicine concluded that “patients whose doctors had practiced for at least 20 years stayed longer in the hospital and were more likely to die compared to those whose doctors got their medical license in the past five years.”
My own personal experience corroborates this, as a medical student was able to correctly diagnose what the attending physician had missed on a trip to the ER. Very experienced, practical individuals sometimes perpetuate bad habits and fail to keep informed of the theories and academics that lead to better practice. This point is completely lost on Taleb.
4. Taleb’s definition of rationality as any action that promotes survival is patently false, as a simple thought experiment can show. Imagine a hypothetical survival machine is available for your use. By plugging yourself in, it will guarantee and maximize your life span and, on a social scale, maximizes reproduction. The price is that the machine also inflicts a high degree of pain and cuts you off from contact with other people.
According to the logic of Taleb, the rational thing to do would be to plug into this machine. Of course, no one would volunteer to do this because survival is not what motivates rational behavior. Any rational agent would choose one year of pleasant life over 100 years in the survival machine, because actions have value according to how they promote or are perceived to promote well-being or pleasure.
Taleb, using this more believable definition of rationality, could have used it to argue the same points, namely how religious belief cannot be called irrational if it promotes well-being, which includes psychological well-being and survival but not survival alone.
That Taleb is antagonistic and holds some questionable views does not mean that he’s wrong about everything. When not being demeaning or taking extreme positions, Taleb writes about some of the most original, thought-provoking, and profound ideas. And even when you find yourself disagreeing with him, he makes you think. For this reason alone, the book is worth checking out.
The idea that the extent of people’s stakes in particular outcomes is a critical yet underrated determinant of events is a profound idea with several implications, which Taleb skillfully explores throughout the book. And his idea that you should have to pay some kind of penalty for decisions that negatively impact others—risk sharing vs. risk transfer—is a solid framework for thinking about a host of issues. Of course, these ideas would be easier to swallow if presented with a little more humility, but I suppose we should know what to expect from Taleb by now.