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 Post subject: Re: Online Reading List
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 10:30 am 
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World Changing Ideas 2012

http://www.scientificamerican.com/artic ... print=true

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 Post subject: Re: Online Reading List
PostPosted: Thu Nov 22, 2012 9:35 am 
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thodoks wrote:
http://www.nowandfutures.com/large/Anti-FragilityPrologue%28taleb%29.pdf

Can't wait for this book to be released.

This review tears into the book.

Quote:
The core idea behind this book is simple and quite enticing. Nassim Nicholas Taleb divides the world and all that's in it (people, things, institutions, ways of life) into three categories: the fragile, the robust and the antifragile. You are fragile if you avoid disorder and disruption for fear of the mess they might make of your life: you think you are keeping safe, but really you are making yourself vulnerable to the shock that will tear everything apart. You are robust if you can stand up to shocks without flinching and without changing who you are. But you are antifragile if shocks and disruptions make you stronger and more creative, better able to adapt to each new challenge you face. Taleb thinks we should all try to be antifragile.

If the idea is nice and neat, however, the book that houses it is just the opposite. It is a big, baggy, sprawling mess. Taleb seems to have decided not just to explain his idea but also to try to exemplify it. One of his bugbears is the fragility of most of what passes for "knowledge" – especially the kind produced by academics – which he thinks is so hung up on order and completeness that it falls apart at the first breath of disruption. So he has gone for deliberate disorder: Antifragile jumps around from aphorism to anecdote to technical analysis, interspersed with a certain amount of hectoring encouragement to the reader to keep up. The aim, apparently, is to show how much more interesting an argument can be if it resists being pinned down.

There are two problems with this. First, the book is very hard going. Everything is taken to link to everything else but nothing is ever followed through....

The other difficulty is that too many of the ideas contained here appear thin and brittle rather than rich and flexible: fragile rather than antifragile. Taleb is keen on "heuristics" – shortcuts to wisdom that encapsulate human experience – but often these seem simply to reflect his own prejudices. To take just one example: Taleb thinks modern states become fragile when they get into debt, and that a prerequisite of political antifragility is rigid fiscal conservatism. This is nonsense. Eschewing debt makes states just as fragile as having too much of it. The durability of both the British and American states throughout their history has depended on their ability to use public debt to adapt to different challenges. As political analysis, Taleb's heuristic – "when you don't have debt you don't care about your reputation … and somehow it's only when you don't care about your reputation that you tend to have a good one" – is glib and unconvincing....

He says Antifragile, along with a technical treatise he published before he became famous, are by far his favourite pieces of writing. If I may be forgiven a heuristic of my own, it is a very bad sign when authors start to look down on the books that connected them to their audience: it means they are now irredeemably up themselves.

As a how-to guide Antifragile is a mixture of the pretentious and the banal. Some of this is deliberate provocation: we are told that real scholarship depends on having a private library rather than learning in the classroom. But much of the advice is just a warmed-up anti-health-and-safety rant with a bit of Nietzsche thrown in. Relying on gyms and doctors make us ill. We all eat too much: better to avoid breakfast. Our kids are being cosseted into fragility by "soccer mom" parenting: we need to let them toughen up. The childrearing implications of Taleb's argument illustrate some of its limitations. Being a parent is an inherently fragile business, given the permanent possibility of something going disastrously wrong. Of course, one way to avoid that would be to live in a world where people are accustomed to their children dying young. Taleb is deeply and depressingly nostalgic for the virtues of the ancients, with their stoicism and tolerance for suffering. To want to return to the miseries of a world that requires such virtues strikes me as ridiculous....

Still, this book should be approached with caution. We do live in a fragile world, vulnerable to extreme shocks. But antifragility is not the solution. It is too crass an idea, and Taleb, for all his vaunted intellectual curiosity, is not really curious about the lives of anyone who doesn't live like him. He says it's better to be a taxi driver than a stockbroker, because you are less exposed to the whims of others. Let him try it. He thinks it's better to be a mafia hard man than a tenured academic. Again, let him try it. The problem with Antifragile is that it is a deeply antisocial book. I am pretty sure people will still be reading Taleb's two previous books in 10 years' time. But I'd be surprised if they are still reading this one.

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 Post subject: Re: Online Reading List
PostPosted: Fri Dec 21, 2012 1:09 pm 
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I have to agree with that review dkfan posted. I just can't keep reading his book. The Black Swan suffered from the same problem of lack of editing and being written by someone with a gigantic ego who knows it and doesn't care, but here he just took things to a whole other level.

Very cool ideas, but terrible--and I do mean terrible--exposition.

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