Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

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Overview

From the bestselling 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...
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Overview

From the bestselling 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 book 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.
 
Praise for Nicholas Nassim Taleb
 
“Changed my view of how the world works.”—Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate
 
“[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
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman credit Nassim Nicholas Taleb with having "changed the way I view the world." For thousands of common readers, his bestsellers The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness have had a similar effect. This new release, however, might be Taleb's most ambitious book yet. Antifragile proposes nothing less than to instruct us on how to respond to our palpably unpredictable world; how to prepare, as it were, for the black swan of chaos. As in his previous books, this distinguished New York University professor draws on examples from economics, biology, politics, war, politics, and personal finance to make his points. A fascinating inquiry into how to prepare for the unexpected.

Publishers Weekly
In this overstuffed, idiosyncratic theory of everything we don’t know, financial adviser and epistemologist Taleb amplifies his megaselling The Black Swan with further musings on the upside of unpredictable upheavals. Ranging haphazardly across probability theory, classical philosophy, government, medicine, and other topics, he contrasts large, complex, “fragile” systems that try to minimize risk but collapse under unforeseen volatility with small, untethered, “antifragile” systems structured to reap advantages from disorder. Taleb’s accessible, stimulating exposition of these ideas yields cogent insights, particularly in finance—his specialty. (He essentially inflates a hedging strategy into a philosophy of life.) Often, however, his far-flung polymathic digressions on everything from weight-lifting regimens to the Fukushima meltdown or the unnaturalness of toothpaste feel tossed-off and unconvincing, given his dilettantish contempt for expert “knowledge-shknowledge.” Taleb’s vigorous, blustery prose drips with Nietzschean scorn for academics, bankers, and bourgeois “sissies” who crave comfort and moderation: “If you take risks and face your fate with dignity,” he intones, “insults by half-men (small men, those who don’t risk)” are no more rankling than “barks by non-human animals.” More worldview than rigorous argument, Taleb’s ramblings may strike readers with knowledge-shknowledge as ill-considered; still, he presents a rich—and often telling—critique of modern civilization’s obsession with security. Illus. Agent: John Brockman, Brockman Inc. (Nov. 27)
Kirkus Reviews
Engineer and trend-watcher Taleb builds on his best-selling hit The Black Swan (2007) to limn a world of uncertainty and chaos. The world is a fragile place, full of surprises. Humans--and especially their markets--hate surprises in general. Small wonder, then, that we spend so much effort trying to make our buildings earthquake-proof and our computers virus-proof, that things prophylactic (no, not that) occupy so much of our thoughts. Taleb calls this "antifragility," writing, "Just as we cannot improve health without reducing disease, or increase wealth without first decreasing losses, antifragility and fragility are degrees on a spectrum." This being a book meant to solve big-picture problems that may or may not be real for most readers, Taleb urges that many of our efforts are misguided, if understandable. He scorns the "fragilistas" so afraid of their own shadows that they put systems into place "in which the benefits are small and visible, and the side effects potentially severe and invisible." His current tract is meant as a corrective, and it's mostly successful at what it aims to do, if sometimes a little daunting--readers are asked, for instance, to grapple with terms such as "apophatic," "hormesis" and "Mithridatization," all useful but thorny all the same. In what a college comp instructor might mark as a shift in diction, however, he throws in more familiar language: "Redundancy is not necessarily wussy; it can be extremely aggressive." And good thing, too. Touring the landscape of uncertainty, Taleb conjures up a few first principles and praises a few models, not least of them Seneca, the great Stoic philosopher who also "happened to be the wealthiest person in the Roman Empire." Mostly, though, the book is an accumulation of small examples and counterexamples, more suggestive than prescriptive. A stimulating modern rejoinder to Joseph Schumpeter's notion of creative destruction.
From the Publisher
“Ambitious and thought-provoking . . . highly entertaining.”The Economist
 
“A bold book explaining how and why we should embrace uncertainty, randomness, and error . . . It may just change our lives.”Newsweek
 
“Revelatory . . . [Taleb] pulls the reader along with the logic of a Socrates.”Chicago Tribune
 
“Startling . . . richly crammed with insights, stories, fine phrases and intriguing asides . . . I will have to read it again. And again.”—Matt Ridley, The Wall Street Journal
 
“Trenchant and persuasive . . . Taleb’s insatiable polymathic curiosity knows no bounds. . . . You finish the book feeling braver and uplifted.”New Statesman
 
“Antifragility isn’t just sound economic and political doctrine. It’s also the key to a good life.”Fortune
 
“At once thought-provoking and brilliant.”—Los Angeles Times

“[Taleb] writes as if he were the illegitimate spawn of David Hume and Rev. Bayes, with some DNA mixed in from Norbert Weiner and Laurence Sterne. . . . Taleb is writing original stuff—not only within the management space but for readers of any literature—and . . . you will learn more about more things from this book and be challenged in more ways than by any other book you have read this year. Trust me on this.”Harvard Business Review

“By far my favorite book among several good ones published in 2012. In addition to being an enjoyable and interesting read, Taleb’s new book advances general understanding of how different systems operate, the great variation in how they respond to unthinkables, and how to make them more adaptable and agile. His systemic insights extend very well to company-specific operational issues—from ensuring that mistakes provide a learning process to the importance of ensuring sufficient transparency to the myriad of specific risk issues.”—Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of PIMCO, Bloomberg

Harvard Business Review
Is there anyone like Nassim Taleb? The author famous for The Black Swan is a bit of a black swan himself — an unexpected phenomenon arising from the collision of several arcane disciplines and varied experiences to startle us and alter our expectations forever after. He writes as if he were the illegitimate spawn of David Hume and Rev. Bayes, with some DNA mixed in from Norbert Weiner and Laurence Sterne. His ideas are novel, but backed up by a huge store of history and scholarship...Taleb is writing original stuff—not only within the management space but for readers of any literature—and that you will learn more about more things from this book and be challenged in more ways than by any other book you have read this year. Trust me on this...Taleb's level of originality is astoundingly rare. Just reflect for a moment: How many books have you read that took you into new territory, not only in their conception but in the ideas at their hearts and the worldly experiences of their authors? Hundreds if not thousands of management books have been published in the past few years, but as someone who reads far too many of them, I can't think of five that have deserved that description. Taleb actually has something new to say that is worth pondering. And in a world where large-scale, unpredictable events are the norm, pondering it is important. You can count on chaos, and work to make your organization antifragile. Or you can keep planning for the probable. If you choose the latter course, then brace yourself for the next black swan — and pray that it isn't your swan song.
Library Journal
Taleb's (risk engineering, New York Univ.; Black Swans) unorthodox thinking and luminescent style manifest themselves in a fusillade of neologisms, creative phraseology, and quirky illustrations. In his previous work, the author outlined the impact of rare, unpredictable events and foretold the impending financial crisis. Here he uses the concept of "antifragility" to show how we can protect ourselves from inevitable personal and societal calamities. The global financial crisis of 2008 is the watershed event of the narrative. Yet Taleb adroitly weaves in strands of psychology, child development, medicine, biology, civics, philosophy, education, military strategy, and the classics to explain how antifragility can make people and systems stronger in the same way that bones need stress to grow denser. VERDICT Taleb's tome is by turns entertaining, thought-provoking, silly, brilliant, and irreverent, yet his logic remains cogent and his message clear throughout. His wit and substance have already found him a worldwide audience; this book is likely to create him an even more robust fan base.—Carol Elsen, Univ. of Wisconsin, Whitewater, Libs.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400067824
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/27/2012
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 86,436
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.38 (d)

Meet the Author

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has devoted his life to immersing himself in problems of luck, uncertainty, probability, and knowledge, and he has led three high-profile careers around his ideas, as a man of letters, as a businessman-trader, and as a university professor. Although he spends most of his time as a flâneur, meditating in cafés across the planet, he is currently Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute. His work has been published in thirty-three languages.
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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2012

    *A full executive summary of this book will be available at newb

    *A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Monday, December 17, 2012.

    The concept of fragility is very familiar to us. It applies to things that break when you strike or stretch them with a relatively small amount of force. Porcelain cups and pieces of thread are fragile. Things that do not break so easily when you apply force to them we call strong or resilient, even robust. A cast-iron pan, for instance. However, there is a third category here that is often overlooked. It includes those things that actually get stronger or improve when they are met with a stressor (up to a point). Take weight-lifting. If you try to lift something too heavy, you'll tear a muscle; but lifting more appropriate weights will strengthen your muscles over time. This property can be said to apply to living things generally, as in the famous aphorism `what doesn't kill you makes you stronger'. Strangely, we don't really have a word for this property, this opposite of fragility.

    For author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, this is a real shame, for when we look closely, it turns out that a lot of things (indeed the most important things) have, or are subject to, this property. Indeed, for Taleb, pretty much anything living, and the complex things that these living things create (like societies, economic systems, businesses etc.) have, or must confront this property in some way. This is important to know, because understanding this can help us understand how to improve these things (or profit from them), and failing to understand it can cause us to unwittingly harm or even destroy them (or be harmed by them). So Taleb has taken it upon himself to name and explore this curious property and its implications; and in his new book 'Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder' Taleb reports on his findings.

    Taleb presents a very intriguing position, and offers up some very interesting evidence in support of it (though at times we may wonder whether he is resorting to the same kind of cherry-picking of information that he accuses others of). Also, Taleb has a lot to say, and a bone to pick, so his style often comes across as arrogant--even bombastic (think Nietzsche). Some will like this, while others will be annoyed (I didn't mind it, but did not think it truly added anything for the most part). Also, Taleb jumps around and repeats himself often. This was more annoying to me than his style, but ultimately I think the content rose well above this, and I truly enjoyed the book, and think it deserves a read. A full executive summary of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Monday, December 17; a podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 4, 2013

    Fantastic - Conceptually Sound, Well Written

    There are three states for things: Fragile: those things that don't do well under adversity; Neutral/Robust: those things that are unaffected by adversity; and, Antifragile: those things that benefit from adversity. Examples are helpful: a system of cooperating governments in which each makes its own decisions and allows the others to see how it fares is antifragile. It is antifragile because a failure of one policy in one government, first, does not affect the others, and, second, the others learn from that mistake and don't repeat it. Contrast that with a single government with a single, central bureaucracy. When that single bureaucracy makes a policy mistake it affects adversely all of the lower levels of the society. The single, central government is fragile because adverse events affect it while the disbursed decision making government is antifragile because an adverse event affecting one does not necessarily affect the others adversely. Once you see that single entities are more fragile than multiple, unconnected entities, the policy implications for banking, industry, and other collections are that the more, independently run entities the more antifragile the system as a whole becomes. Author Taleb explains these concepts clearly with many examples showing the concept of antifragilism is what makes a competitive, capitalist system superior to all currently envisioned alternatives. His approach is neither political nor economic. It is rather well-based in common sense and logic. This is a good read. It helps to understand the world as we see it and suggests that alternative approaches to many organizational choices, while not intuitive, will yield more robust systems as well as the opportunity for improved system results.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 4, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Go buy it!

    I bought this book for my husband as a Christmas gift and he really enjoyed it. He is a partner in a mid-sized small cap investment firm and is certainly interested in anything written about the economy or the stock market. A lot of books he never finishes, but this one he did. He certainly recommends it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2013

    Antifragile

    More of a polemic than his previous books, but still interesting.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 18, 2013

    disappointing

    I thought this would be more about the science world, instead it's all about the political/economic world.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2014

    Lucy

    *Walks in* who runs this RP? Boy or girl? And name

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2014

    NEW RP

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2014

    Reader Beware! This book could kill you.

    Nassim will ride his ideas into the ground or into the winners circle. Readers must beware the pain they MUST endure to follow this path. Intelligent courage is the real title.

    To become antifragile NECESSARILY means you will suffer tremendous pain. Survival is not likely, so beware of this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2013

    Unreadable

    This would probably have made a good long essay/article, but it felt stretched out and unreadable as a full book. Also the term "antifragile" drove me crazy because anti-anything usually means against, like anti-venom, anti-tank or anti-virus. Nassim is clearly not using antifragile to mean against fragile.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2013

    Fascinating

    ...

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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