2012 Non Fiction

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Antifragile: How to Live in a World We Don't Understand

Five words from the blurb: prediction, errors, immune, social, economic

A few years ago I read The Black Swan and was impressed by the number of thought provoking ideas it contained; so I jumped at the chance to read a review copy of Taleb’s new book, Antifragile, which is more impressive in many ways.

‘Antifragile’ is a term invented by Taleb to refer to things that improve with stress. He uses numerous examples to show how everything from human health to financial markets can benefit from small amounts of damage. He explains how the old saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is true and how people can benefit from embracing this knowledge.

Many sections of this book were eye-opening and they helped to change my perception of certain events. I particularly liked the thought that women who carry items on their head have better posture and bone density than those that don’t:

The tradition has been to think that aging causes bone weakness (bones lose density, become more brittle), as if there was a one-way relationship possibly brought about by hormones (females start experiencing osteporosis after menopause). It turns out, as shown by Karsenty and others who have since embarked on the line of research, that the reverse is also largely true: loss of bone density also causes aging, diabetes, and, for males, loss of fertility and sexual function.

Some of the ideas, especially the thought that small wars are good for the population as a whole, are controversial, but I found them thought provoking and enjoyed the little arguments they created in my head!

Unfortunately there were several problems with this book. The first was that I felt Taleb was being overly provocative. In the book he states that authors are antifragile and any negative media about a book/author will only help sales. I felt that he was trying to maximise negative publicity by deliberately naming people he disagreed with and being quite arrogant and rude on several occasions.

Many sections of the book were also unnecessarily complex. Obscure words and a difficult sentence structure meant that some paragraphs were almost incomprehensible. I frequently re-read passages and remained unsure of the point he was trying to make.

Luckily the genius of this book outweighs the problems. I love the way Taleb has created a new way of looking at the world and even though I don’t agree with him entirely I feel as though my mind has become richer as a result of his challenging thoughts.

This video interview with him will give you a good idea of his style:

Recommended to anyone who likes new ways of looking at the world.


9 replies on “Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb”

Ron loved The Black Swan so much he read bits of it out loud to me, and he got this one for Christmas, so I’ll no doubt be hearing bits of it, too. Perhaps I’ll even read some parts on my own.

I got a review copy of this too, but have only just started it – finding the opening summary chapter rather repetitive and even esoteric – hoping that the main book is understandable – I’m sure it will be thought-provoking.

Annabel, Have you read The Black Swan? I can see why the opening chapters might be quite difficult to follow if you are unfamiliar with his work. I’d love to say it get easier as it progresses, but I’m afraid that isn’t true. Some sections were easy for me to grasp, others impossible. Good luck! I look forward to seeing how you get on with it.

Jo, Yes, I do think it helps to read ‘Black Swan’ first. You could probably read ‘Antifragile’ as a standalone, but I think you’d miss out a bit as there are lots of sections that refer back to ‘Black Swan’ findings. I look forward to seeing what you think of his writing.

I love the premise and the sounds of what’s discussed; it sounds fascinating. I think I can see the issue with the provocative writing though as I read something a few years ago that did similar, singling people out and being controversial just to be so. But yes, other than that it sounds very interesting. Whether or not one can agree with an opinion it certainly gives you something to consider.

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