From the best-selling author of The Black Swan and one of the foremost thinkers of our time, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a book on how some things actually benefit from disorder.
In The Black Swan Taleb outlined a problem, and in Antifragile he offers a definitive solution: how to gain from disorder and chaos while being protected from fragilities and adverse events. For what Taleb calls the "antifragile" is actually beyond the robust, because it benefits from shocks, uncertainty, and stressors, just as human bones get stronger when subjected to stress and tension. The antifragile needs disorder in order to survive and flourish.
Taleb stands uncertainty on its head, making it desirable, even necessary, and proposes that things be built in an antifragile manner. The antifragile is immune to prediction errors. Why is the city-state better than the nation-state, why is debt bad for you, and why is everything that is both modern and complicated bound to fail? The audiobook spans innovation by trial and error, health, biology, medicine, life decisions, politics, foreign policy, urban planning, war, personal finance, and economic systems. And throughout, in addition to the street wisdom of Fat Tony of Brooklyn, the voices and recipes of ancient wisdom, from Roman, Greek, Semitic, and medieval sources, are heard loud and clear.
Extremely ambitious and multidisciplinary, Antifragile provides a blueprint for how to behave - and thrive - in a world we don't understand, and which is too uncertain for us to even try to understand and predict. Erudite and witty, Taleb’s message is revolutionary: What is not antifragile will surely perish.
©2012 Nassim Nicholas Taleb (P)2012 Random House Audio
"[This] is the lesson of Taleb...and also the lesson of our volatile times. There is more courage and heroism in defying the human impulse, in taking the purposeful and painful steps to prepare for the unimaginable." (Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point)
"[Taleb writes] in a style that owes as much to Stephen Colbert as it does to Michel de Montaigne." (The Wall Street Journal)
"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." (GQ)
As a longtime reader of Taleb, I find him at best mostly bracing, sometimes head-turning with new twists of ideas, sometimes charmingly abrasive. He can be like a bright, independent-thinking pal to spend a walk with (and I walk with books mostly). This book is worth it on that level. There are important ideas here which the herd misses, probably to its ultimate regret. But plenty of time is spent here with ideas not as new and revolutionary as he touts them as, and of course the self-absorbed cheap-shot attacks on straw-man "academics," etc. Why spend so much time attacking mediocrities in that corner of the world? It gets repetitive, and that's where (despite his protestations) a SMART editor (unlike, again, the mediocre straw-man editors he criticizes) would come in handy. There seems to be a framing effect, a saliency bias, Mr Taleb is brilliant but very wrapped up in his world of airport luggage, dinners, academics, with a certain adolescent resentment about elements of it. I feel sometimes like I'm trapped in an airport luncheon with him and his loathsome dull academics, as he prattles on.
Taleb and his "abrasive personality" as another reviewer aptly noted is slightly obnoxious but mostly brilliant...long time fan here. But does anyone know why the book is censored with those horrible bleeps? What does Audible have to say about it? There is really no excuse for it.
There are two things to say about this book: one is about the intellectual content, which is brilliant and thought-provoking. The other is its tone and character, which is nauseating at times and simply boring at most others. Enough is said about that in other reviews, suffice to say that he does it even more in this book than in his previous tomes.
Back to the content then: Taleb asserts that we cannot KNOW the probability or risk of certain events, that is why instead we should focus on its consequences, bad or good. Almost all relevant events are 'non-linear', meaning that the potential benefits far outweigh the potential costs or vice versa. If we focus on reducing the potentially large negative consequences of events and expose ourselves to potentially large positive consequences of others (at little cost) than we are really progressing. He advocates a barbell strategy, of limiting your biggest risks while exposing yourself to the biggest upsides.
Some interesting elements:
(1) the 'via negitiva' or subtractive way of doing things. It is easier to predict the things that in the future will no longer be there (the fragile), then the new things that will arise and be successful. The old is more likely to stay around than the new (it has been around longer). (2) The small, decentral is less harmful than the big central which drags everybody along. (3) 'stressors'. Minor stressors (pains, damage) due to volatility are good for strength. Too much stability creates comfort and lack of strength. This is true for humans: no effort, no strength. But also for government monopolies.
And finally (4) his main point: let us try to intervene less in society, economy and human beings, because practically all intervention has large negative and unknown consequences. Only intervene when not intervening ends most likely very bad. This could be a policy for the military too?
I for one can recommend the content of this book if you can stomach the tone, and am myself still digesting its consequential conclusions.
I really wanted to like this book. I enjoyed "Fooled by Randomness" and "The Black Swan". I'd forgotten how arrogant and self-important Taleb is by the time I purchased this book. In the other two books, interesting thoughts and data made the arrogance tolerable. After three or four chapters of this book, I had to give up.
I'm the *FIRST* one to be excited by discovering that the "conventional wisdom" is wrong. It means new and interesting thoughts and wider future possibilities, and I've got a perverse attraction to such things. But I don't - not for one minute - believe that the researchers that accept the "conventional wisdom" are fools or idiots. I can believe someone has drawn the wrong conclusions, yet still believe that they are intelligent people of good will and intent. I've been wrong myself, so I understand that it is possible to do so - be wrong, that is - without being an idiot, a fool, or mendacious and malicious.
The concept "I understand, but disagree" is completely foreign to Taleb's mindset. He asserts repeatedly that those who disagree with him are fools and simpletons. He spends more time deriding them than he does illustrating his evidence. He often substitutes anecdotal evidence as authoritative, then cherry-picks research to support the idea he's chosen. This doesn't mean the idea is *wrong*; it means that it doesn't provide the necessary evidence to choose it over other possible explanations. I don't mind the occasional well-placed, witty jab at one's intellectual opponents in the arena of ideas, but Taleb's incessant sniping at everyone from "academics" (which he speaks of with a decided sneer) to "bankers" (which he speaks of equally sneeringly) grates on my nerves after a while. "All right, Mr. Taleb, I get it. You don't like academics or bankers, nutritionists, cardiologists, fitness scientists, etc. Can we get past this now?"
I hope someone else repackages these ideas in a more palatable package. If they're as earthshaking as Taleb thinks they are, it won't be long. Until then, I guess I'll be behind the curve, as this is unreadable.
Another Taleb book that spends more time talking about how brilliant Nassim is (and how stupid everybody else is and how stupid they are for not realizing how brilliant he is) than anything else.
Taleb's attempts to construct parables, to stitch together what appears to be an unedited notebook around his central theme is a repetitive morass of endless repetition and the same thing over and over until the very end where he repeats himself again.
Only he doesn't appear to realize he's doing it...
Here is the take-away. It is an old one, and one that is not new, and didn't really need a new name (no matter what Taleb seems to think):
There are things that fall apart when faced with surprises. These things are fragile. Often you can make small gains in the short run by investing in these, but you are exposed to tremendous loss when that surprise comes along. There are also things that make small losses in the short run (under normal circumstances) but that gain from surprises. If you can survive the stream of small losses, the big gains are really big. For this reason, it's always better to be in the second situation than the first.
No, the genre is still strong.
He accurately captured the self-absorbed, vitriolic and condescending tone of the book. I grew to hate his voice and speaking style as much as Taleb himself!
You could cut 2/3 of this book without affecting the quality. I'm sure Taleb would fire you as editor and tell you you're too much of a simpleton to understand his genius and that every drop of turd in this book is a pearl of his infinite and misunderstood wisdom.
Old & fat, but strong; American, Chinese, & Indian (sort of); Ph.D. in C.S.; strategy, economics & stability theory; trees & machining.
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.
Captivating, applicable, snarky.
Taleb does a good job of linking his overall points to experiences in day to day life.
The narrator did an acceptable job. What was unacceptable was the decision to bleep out swear-words. This isn't a children's book, and the occasional "bullsh*t" and "f*ck-you" are very much in Taleb's style of communicating. Bleeping them out was distracting and very disruptive.
I have to ask, why would someone bleep out swear words in a book like this? It's not quite as bad as censoring a book like Orwell's 1984, but it's close.
A fellow listener inclined to share my opinion on these productions. Maybe even inspire someone toward a powerful, or educational audiobook!
I like Nassim Nicholas Taleb's other books; Fooled By Randomness, was a stand alone masterpiece, tying mathematics and story masterfully together. The Black Swan does the same thing, and did it receiving even more accolade! This book gets its theory across clearly enough, but just seems to carry on too long in many areas. It just seems to be over-reaching. It may very well be reaching in the right direction, and toward a noble concept, it just wasn't a direction I was as enthralled with as other titles by Taleb. If you are a Taleb fan, you have to get it, but if you are just in search of something new in the realm of laymen literature on statistics and mathematics, I suggest you start with his other stuff first. Or even The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow. Anyway...it was well read and transitioned well from section to section.
The narrator of "Black Swan" is the best for Taleb's books. This one easily gets me bored on prolonged listening. Should have a hard copy.
I had a lot of wonderful "Aha" moments listening to this audio book about Antifragile vs. Fragile systems. The author has identified a key underlying paradyne for failure or success, whether personal, in business or with government programs.
Long ago, another book: Leadership and the new science by Margaret Wheatley convinced me that nature is self organizing and business can be set up to be self organizing. Nassim Nicholas Taleb echo's that idea and states, the natural order is overwhelmingly Antifragile, while our manmade order tends to be Fragile. The earth and mankind have evolved all by themselves without some great leader calling the shots, because nature is Antifragile. If we listen/obey leaders who tell us how to live our own lives (which we already know intuitively and logically), we are likely to become Fragile.
Fragility is all about risks. An activity is Fragile, if the downside (negative) risks predominate over the upside risks or the downside risks are greater than the upsize risks. Fragile is the property of most manmade systems. How does that apply to us? Modernity has created structures that allows certain groups of people, like corporate bankers, politicians and academics to take excessive risks without any skin in the game and thereby pass the downside consequences onto others, making them Fragile. One way avoid this Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues, is to make ourselves Antifragile by insisting all decisions makers affecting our lives have skin in the game. However, bankers, politicians and academics usually have no skin in the game. In fact, often they gain at the expense of the people they serve. So the solution is, limit the size and power of banks, corporations and government to minimize the damage.
Taleb also points out that top down decisions by leaders who don't understand complex system, such as our economy, and have no skin in the game pass laws/regulations that make small problems large; for example our Financial Crisis:
1. The Federal Reserve made our financial system Fragile when it tried to prevent a small adjustment/recession by keeping interest rates too low and ended up causing a housing bubble plus the great recession.
2. Taxpayers became Fragile when large banks took excessive downside risk because the government protected the banks against that risk at taxpayer expense.
There is a bit of fluff in the book, but overall Taleb makes a great case limiting downsize risk and how we can achieve it. He deserves Nobel Prize.
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