Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Book: Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "Antifragile"

It is a rare book that I do not finish.  I guess I'm always hopeful that it will get better.  You would think that by now I would learn.  My latest read, Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder" should have been one of those books that should have been tossed or, since it's an ebook, deleted.

To be fair, there are many concepts in the book I totally agree with.  The book discusses how some systems grow stronger after being subjected to stress - i.e. instead of breaking under stress like fragile things, antifragile things become stronger.  The author goes on to suggest that government, economic, medical, and other systems that our society relies on should be redesigned to be antifragile.  A can't disagree with that.  What I can disagree with is how the author expresses his ideas.

Taleb's writing style would best be described as conceited, condescending, smart ass.  He has no respect for nearly anyone other than himself and, I suspect, only people who agree with him.  He puts down politicians, economists, academics, scientists, engineers, and anyone who is referred to as an expert.   Frankly I agree that most of these people have know idea what they are talking about but I don't go around insulting every single one of them.  I don't paint everyone with the same brush.  Taleb  uses a paint sprayer.

Taleb also has an obsession with the classical.  He obviously is a bit of a luddite.  One thing he recommends is that the longer something has existed, the longer it will continue to exist.  That makes sense to me.  He then goes on to say that you should only read older works of literature.  He says that young works are not old enough to prove their worth.  This is absurd.  If this was taken to its logical conclusion and everyone followed his advice, no new books would be read.  If no one reads a new book, no matter how wise, accurate, insightful, the book is, it would die.  It would never even have a chance to become a long lasting classic.  The author seems to forget that all the great classical writings he loves were once new and untested.  If no one read them when they were first written they too would have vanished long ago.  Good literature does not make a classic, good readers make good literature classic.  Heck, if his recommendation were followed his books would all be sitting on a shelf somewhere unread and he would just be a frustrated ex-author.

\Every time I got frustrated by Taleb's disrespect or arrogance, a good idea would make an appearance.  This is why I kept reading.  I kept hoping his good ideas would supersede his insufferable condescension.  It turned out to be hopelessly futile.  I can not in good conscious recommend this book which is so sad because it has the potential of becoming a classic.

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