Old & fat, but strong; American, Chinese, & Indian (sort of); Ph.D. in C.S.; strategy, economics & stability theory; trees & machining.
On the one hand this is a systematization of what you should know at 50, but probably didn’t know at 25. That said it’s an excellent book for three reasons: 1) If you look around at 50 year olds, surprisingly many of them didn’t learn all that they should have about relationships. 2) The book connects it’s insights to mainstream structures in psychology, specifically the work on attachment theory started by John Bowlby. 3) In this case the systematization seems especially valuable, creating a framework for everyday life that helps sort through much of the relationship drivel flowing from popular culture.
The book argues that attachment is at the core of adult relationships, and that different adults have distinct attachment styles. It further suggests that the analogy between adult attachment styles and the parent/child attachment style is powerful. The book summarizes these two observations by proposing three main styles: 1) avoidant (or perhaps independent), 2) secure (or perhaps altruistic), and 3) worried (or perhaps needy). Compatibility of styles leads to healthy adult attachments.
The book also suggests a hierarchy of adult compatibility: 0) passion (compatibility at this level tend to be a symptom of deeper things, mattering only in the extreme, e.g., sexual orientation), 1) logistics (compatibility at this level matters, but can typically be negotiated), 2) values (compatibility at this level is pretty core and incompatibilities here are dangerous), 3) intimacy (incompatibilities at this level probably have to be resolved for the relationship to survive).
I thought about picking this as my book of the year for 2012. I wonder if I’ll regret not doing so. Give a copy to a 25 year old; I did. It might shorten their learning process by 20 years.
The basic thesis of the book is that the brain can be radically rewired through experience. That this can happen until shortly before the point of death and that this is the norm has only very recently been accepted as a mainstream view in science. This book is probably the first good survey of this revolutionary new understanding.
The book is entertaining more than scientifically rigorous. That doesn't mean that the basic thesis of the book is scientifically suspect (it is not), just that the book doesn't attempt scrupulous rigor.
It contains sections on the formation of sexual fetishes that make for slightly creepy reading and sections on psychodynamic that are probably pretty speculative. But it also contains truly inspirationally stories of recover from stroke and other misfortunes.
The 1960s’ (earlier or later depending on the field) represented the zenith of a particular collection of ways of thinking about applied probability, about large systems, and about epistemology. Defining this paradigm is tricky. I think of Thomas Kuhn, Kalman Filters, NASA’s approach to quality, Karl Popper, and the invention of the FFT, but list is too idiosyncratic to be helpful. But the point here is that this way of thinking (which I have trouble defining) has given way to a new paradigm that is more about complexity theory (although not so much about chaos theory), network affects, heavy tail distribution, facials, and the unknowable. This book is trying to explain this new paradigm.
Taleb’s technical papers have contributed some to the development of this new paradigm, but his great contribution is the creation of an accessible philosophy built around this new science. This philosophical construction started with Fooled by Randomness, progressed in The Black Swan, and now culminates in Anti-Fragile.
To “get it” you probably have to just read the books, but I’ll try to explain. In Fooled by Randomness he examines the oft practiced money manager con, where you are sold a betting system is right 80% of the time. Sounds like a winner, but beware, the losses when the scheme is wrong are more than 4 times the winning when it’s right. Many a high wage earner has been bilked by myriad versions of this con. In The Black Swan he follows the question of how such cons are constructed, to propose that reality is partitioned into two types of probability distributions: those like the distribution of the height of people and those like the distributions of the wealth of people. The latter distribution is incomprehensibly more varied than the former. He then asserts that randomness fools use when we confusion the two kinds of randomness. In the Anti-Fragile he considers how the two types of randomness are constructed. It is well known that the low variance type arise from combining lots of independent events and the high variability type arise form feedback between lots of connected events.
And then his punch line is … large systems with lots of feedback among the connected parts can be fragile as when the connections cause cascading failures, or they can be anti-fragile as when small failures lead to compensations that strengthen the system. This insight leads to a way of about almost everything.
Oh yea, the alternate title might be, “The Quasi-Organized Ranting of a Misunderstood Genius”. He has learned that anti-fragile things benefit from verity, adversity, and controversy; and has concluded that writing popular books falls in this category. So in each book he increases the narcissus, the adolescence, and the taunting. In this book I think the new high water mark was when he said his former boss was constipated. I hope he hasn’t crossed a threshold were the anti-fragile is simply annihilated.