Daily Archives: April 4, 2013

* Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

If, like me, you read and enjoyed The Black Swan by the same author, you may be tempted to read Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. The message from The Black Swan was that human beings in general and financiers in particular, the publication date being right after the financial crisis, tend not to think outside the realm of what they have already experienced, and hence can easily lull themselves into narrowing randomness into neat spreadsheets. In this book, the author describes how individuals and systems can be made “antifragile” as he calls it, not just robust but actually benefitting from unforeseen events.

Some insights are eye-opening. For instance, intervening to prop up a failing system can make it more fragile, not less. Or a book that has been in print for forty years is more likely to remain in print for another forty years (quite unlike the way it works for human life expectancy). Others are just silly, as when he argues that only “natural” weights make sense, as in feet or inches, because they correspond to physical reality. As someone brought up under the metric system, I feel I have a very grounded understanding of centimeters, while I cannot conceive of a foot except as, well, 30 centimeters. He also professes a great hatred of corporations but considering the amount of air travel he describes undertaking I wonder how he thinks that commercial aviation could work with the “artisans” he so eagerly thinks we should all become.

But let’s jump to the heart of my quarrel with the book. It’s the hatred. The author hates everyone who is not antifragile, especially if they have the audacity to disagree with his theory. He hates politicians, financiers, bureaucrats, corporations, even anonymous employees  of said corporations. He hates them so much he has to repeat it over and over again. And he hates so strongly that he simply must curse them and what they do, repeatedly and, to me at least, offensively. When he confides in us,  on page 134, that he used to be strident but is now absolutely patient and “priestly” (what a peculiar choice of words!) with his critics, I wonder how bad it was, before… I found the book barely readable for all the foaming at the mouth.

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