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Book Review: Antifragile

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Sep 13, 2014 1:37:00 PM

Book Review: Antifragile

"History is a race between education and catastrophe."

H. G. Wells 


This book got in my hands by the title "Tough times don't last, tough people do" which was wrapped around the original title "Antifragile". Travelling down new paths of thinking rarely occurs and this book claims to provide this. I was in for a mixed experience.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a Lebanese American who is active as a statistician, hedge fund manager, professor and derivates trader. His publications are mainly concerned with how to address questions of risk that provide answers of how to be prepared for unpredicted events. His bestselling books "Black Swan" and "Antifragile" gained high critical acclaim (amongst them Daniel Kahneman author of "thinking fast and slow") and was published by Penguin books. The book "Antifragile" was published in 2013.

Taleb puts together ideas from Greek and Roman philosophy, modern financial models and his own life experience. His major point is that you can't predict events that you don't that they do exist. Lack of proof that somethin doesn't exist does not necessarily allow to conclude that it doesn't exist. An example of such a "Black Swan event" would be a volcano eruption of an unknown volcano in the middle of Los Angeles (nobody knew about it, does not happen often, still has a huge impact). This concept is an idea mainly developed in the "Black Swan", "Antifragile" tries to give the reader ideas on how to tackle Black Swan events. Taleb's major suggestion for a strategy is to diversify paired with a "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "Everything artificial has to justify itself, nature doesn't have to justify itself as it has been proven robust by trial and error over thousands of years" approach.

The writer's ideas and concepts are well respected in the researchers community and not denied. Still Taleb is criticized for his style of writing and lack of referencing to former publications and groundwork lacking the basis which a profound study of a topic needs.

The idea of Black Swan events and diversification appeal to me and I would recommend the book even though it was hard for me to get into Taleb's writing style in the beginning. I haven't read the "Black Swan" which looking back seems to be advisable for others who want to have a go at it. A big downside for me personally where the insults to other researchers in the book which went beyond professional criticism. Taleb uses provocation and polarization to dramatize his findings and spur a public discussion, which he probably learned reading Cato. If progress is his motive I like the approach (however I am not a mind reader). If the motive is based on a sense of being superior to all the other experts it would be rather irritating. A controversial book which brings across interesting new approaches which are hard to access due to the style of writing. To say it with Dale Carnegie's words "If you want honey don't kick over the beehive".


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