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)
“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
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.
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 stuffnot only within the management space but for readers of any literatureand 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.
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.