Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

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Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Random House Publishing Group | November 27, 2012 | Hardcover

Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 2.
Antifragile is a standalone book in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s landmark Incerto series, an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision-making in a world we don’t understand. The other books in the series are Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, and The Bed of Procrustes.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the bestselling author of The Black Swan and one of the foremost thinkers of our time, reveals how to thrive in an uncertain world.
 
Just as human bones get stronger when subjected to stress and tension, and rumors or riots intensify when someone tries to repress them, many things in life benefit from stress, disorder, volatility, and turmoil. What Taleb has identified and calls “antifragile” is that category of things that not only gain from chaos but need it in order to survive and flourish. 
 
In The Black Swan, Taleb showed us that highly improbable and unpredictable events underlie almost everything about our world. In Antifragile, Taleb stands uncertainty on its head, making it desirable, even necessary, and proposes that things be built in an antifragile manner. The antifragile is beyond the resilient or robust. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better and better.
 
Furthermore, the antifragile is immune to prediction errors and protected from adverse events. Why is the city-state better than the nation-state, why is debt bad for you, and why is what we call “efficient” not efficient at all? Why do government responses and social policies protect the strong and hurt the weak? Why should you write your resignation letter before even starting on the job? How did the sinking of the Titanic save lives? The book spans innovation by trial and error, life decisions, politics, urban planning, war, personal finance, economic systems, and medicine. And throughout, in addition to the street wisdom of Fat Tony of Brooklyn, the voices and recipes of ancient wisdom, from Roman, Greek, Semitic, and medieval sources, are loud and clear.
 
Antifragile is a blueprint for living in a Black Swan world.
 
Erudite, witty, and iconoclastic, Taleb’s message is revolutionary: The antifragile, and only the antifragile, will make it.

Praise for Antifragile
 
“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

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 544 pages, 9.57 × 6.4 × 1.35 in

Published: November 27, 2012

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 1400067820

ISBN - 13: 9781400067824

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Antifragility Should Become a Household Word Nassim Taleb has written a very worthy companion to his previous two popular books – Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan. Taleb tells us that the three books “are non-overlapping chapters from [a] central idea, a main corpus focused on uncertainty, randomness, probability, disorder, and what to do in a world we don’t understand.” One need not have read the other two to enjoy this book, but those who haven’t will likely find themselves back in the bookstore to catch up once they’ve finished Antifragile. The three books can stand alone, but as Taleb points out, are extremely complimentary. Readers who enjoyed the previous two books will love this one, and as before Taleb’s writing is long on narrative and short on formulas (the technical writing can be accessed free online in short, supporting documents); complex ideas served in easily digestible bites. His familiar, erudite (some would say high falutin’) style is rich in stories, anecdotes, and of course philosophy and Mediterranean history. He is as cranky as ever, taking liberal shots at economists, bankers, MBAs and in particular Harvard (though he does reserve a soft spot for grandmothers, Steve Jobs and the Sopranos). He is also unusually frank in criticising well known thinkers and economists, though always from a point of principle rather than maliciously, sometimes by position and other times by name. Taleb is also more thoughtful and philosophical in this book, exploring to the fullest his central ideas noted above and their impacts on systems and entities. Specifically, Taleb contends that entities or systems are either fragile, robust or – in his words – antifragile. Fragile is the china collection in the display case (or our financial or economic system); robust is a rock; and antifragile is, well, the opposite of fragile, where a random knock strengthens rather than harms (or eliminates) the entity. Nature is the ultimate antifragile system, made stronger and more robust via stresses. Nature values diversity between organisms more than within organisms, though even within there are stabilizing redundancies - both larger scale (two kidneys) and genetic (duplicative and unused code) - developed through trial and error. A key point is that nature’s ‘system’ has developed in a ‘bottom-up’ series of trial and error, and not like many man-made systems (economics, finance, nation states) that are ‘top down’. In the same way, Taleb contends that a system of city-states will be more robust over time than will be a system of nations; that there is a more natural lifeblood to city-states and therefore better longevity when stresses appear. The long history of Taleb’s native Lebanon seems to prove well his point. Time is an enemy to fragility and friend to antifragility - something that options traders in capital markets know explicitly, as the value of an option increases with the time to expiration. Taleb’s earlier professional work with options and non-linear payoffs, and his more recent years of thinking and writing about the subject has of course produced his trilogy, but it has also produced some thought provoking guidance. For example, Taleb tells us he values the worth of a book by how long it has been in print; that books that have stood the test of time are much worthier of his and our attention than the ephemeral best-sellers (Jonathan Livingston Seagull anyone?) that capture our attention and quickly fade. In a narrative irony, Taleb tells of the fallibility of history and the biases of victors (or vanquished, if they’re telling the story) when they cherry pick examples to support their story, but of course Taleb does the same with his (well told) examples from his life, childhood, and ancestral home. And while Taleb’s stories and opinions are generally entertaining and appropriate, he does digress occasionally, for example when he extols the virtues of imperial measures versus those of metric. Small quibbles for a great work. While Taleb’s ideas do translate to the world of finance – his professional background – Antifragile is neither a finance book nor a blueprint on how to profit from markets with options. It is a book of philosophy and logic, well reasoned and applicable to the world in general. It will make you think and question not just your day to day life, but also the society we’ve built around us. An important and thought provoking book, and using Taleb’s measure, likely to stand the test of time.
Date published: 2012-12-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Brief Summary and Review *A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Monday, December 17, 2012. The concept of fragility is very familiar to us. It applies to things that break when you strike or stretch them with a relatively small amount of force. Porcelain cups and pieces of thread are fragile. Things that do not break so easily when you apply force to them we call strong or resilient, even robust. A cast-iron pan, for instance. However, there is a third category here that is often overlooked. It includes those things that actually get stronger or improve when they are met with a stressor (up to a point). Take weight-lifting. If you try to lift something too heavy, you’ll tear a muscle; but lifting more appropriate weights will strengthen your muscles over time. This property can be said to apply to living things generally, as in the famous aphorism ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. Strangely, we don’t really have a word for this property, this opposite of fragility. For author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, this is a real shame, for when we look closely, it turns out that a lot of things (indeed the most important things) have, or are subject to, this property. Indeed, for Taleb, pretty much anything living, and the complex things that these living things create (like societies, economic systems, businesses etc.) have, or must confront this property in some way. This is important to know, because understanding this can help us understand how to improve these things (or profit from them), and failing to understand it can cause us to unwittingly harm or even destroy them (and be harmed by them). So Taleb has taken it upon himself to name and explore this curious property and its implications; and in his new book ‘Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder’ Taleb reports on his findings. As the title would suggest, what Taleb has found is that most complex systems not only gain from small stressors, but they are designed to gain more when these stressors are distributed irregularly, or randomly. This point is more difficult to accept because we tend to dislike disorder and randomness. Disorder can be frightening, because unpredictable, and is therefore not something that we readily welcome. So what we often do is attempt to remove the random and disorderly from our systems, and make them smooth. For example, we may try to take the boom and bust out of the economy, and instead aim for a gradual upward trend. For Taleb, though, this is a big mistake, because while removing the small shocks in a complex system may create stability for a time, it actually upsets the system and makes it prone to major shocks in the long term. What’s more, unlike the small shocks (that refine and improve the system), the major shocks are usually damaging, and can even destroy the system. So removing the small shocks from a complex system doesn’t create stability; rather, it creates the illusion of stability. In the economy, for instance, you get a long period of stability followed by a major crash. This phenomenon is not just confined to the economy. Indeed, Taleb maintains that it is the spirit of the age to believe that we can remove the disorder from any system, and render it orderly, smooth and predictable. We are almost always mistaken in this, and end up creating systems that are prone to major damage and even outright destruction (in Taleb’s language, we ‘fragilize’ these systems). We call the damaging and destructive episodes Black Swan events (Taleb himself coined the term). Better it would be by far, Taleb argues, to accept and even welcome a certain amount of disorder, randomness and jaggedness in our lives and systems, and put ourselves in a position to profit from the unpredictable, rather than eradicate it. On this last point, Taleb maintains that it is indeed possible to profit from the unpredictable (without having to actually predict any specific thing—which is next to impossible in the realm of the complex anyway). We simply need to recognize what systems are fragile (and therefore prone to collapse), and what systems are antifragile (and therefore prone to grow stronger from stressors), and get out of the way of the former, and put our faith in the latter. This applies not only to large, overarching systems like corporations, economic systems and political societies, but our own bodies and minds. Taleb has a lot to say, and a bone to pick, so his style often comes across as arrogant—even bombastic. Some will like this, while others will be annoyed. Also, Taleb jumps around and repeats himself often. This was more annoying to me than his style, but ultimately I think the content rose well above this, and I truly enjoyed the book, and think it deserves a read. A full executive summary of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Monday, December 17; a podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.
Date published: 2012-12-09

– More About This Product –

Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 544 pages, 9.57 × 6.4 × 1.35 in

Published: November 27, 2012

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 1400067820

ISBN - 13: 9781400067824

From the Publisher

Antifragile is a standalone book in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s landmark Incerto series, an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision-making in a world we don’t understand. The other books in the series are Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, and The Bed of Procrustes.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the bestselling author of The Black Swan and one of the foremost thinkers of our time, reveals how to thrive in an uncertain world.
 
Just as human bones get stronger when subjected to stress and tension, and rumors or riots intensify when someone tries to repress them, many things in life benefit from stress, disorder, volatility, and turmoil. What Taleb has identified and calls “antifragile” is that category of things that not only gain from chaos but need it in order to survive and flourish. 
 
In The Black Swan, Taleb showed us that highly improbable and unpredictable events underlie almost everything about our world. In Antifragile, Taleb stands uncertainty on its head, making it desirable, even necessary, and proposes that things be built in an antifragile manner. The antifragile is beyond the resilient or robust. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better and better.
 
Furthermore, the antifragile is immune to prediction errors and protected from adverse events. Why is the city-state better than the nation-state, why is debt bad for you, and why is what we call “efficient” not efficient at all? Why do government responses and social policies protect the strong and hurt the weak? Why should you write your resignation letter before even starting on the job? How did the sinking of the Titanic save lives? The book spans innovation by trial and error, life decisions, politics, urban planning, war, personal finance, economic systems, and medicine. And throughout, in addition to the street wisdom of Fat Tony of Brooklyn, the voices and recipes of ancient wisdom, from Roman, Greek, Semitic, and medieval sources, are loud and clear.
 
Antifragile is a blueprint for living in a Black Swan world.
 
Erudite, witty, and iconoclastic, Taleb’s message is revolutionary: The antifragile, and only the antifragile, will make it.

Praise for Antifragile
 
“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

About the Author

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has devoted his life to problems of uncertainty, probability, and knowledge. He spent nearly two decades as a businessman and quantitative trader before becoming a full-time philosophical essayist and academic researcher in 2006. Although he spends most of his time in the intense seclusion of his study, or as a flâneur meditating in cafés, he is currently Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute. His main subject matter is “decision making under opacity”—that is, a map and a protocol on how we should live in a world we don’t understand.
 
Taleb’s books have been published in thirty-three languages.

Editorial Reviews

“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 fa
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