Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Random, $30 (560p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6782-4
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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)
Reviewed on: 10/15/2012
Release date: 11/27/2012
Compact Disc - 13 pages - 978-0-7393-7069-8
Paperback - 519 pages - 978-0-8129-7968-8
Paperback - 660 pages - 978-2-251-44476-5
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