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The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms Paperback – 7 Jul 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (7 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241954096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241954096
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 0.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 177,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has devoted his life to problems of uncertainty, probability, and knowledge. He spent two decades as a trader before becoming a philosophical essayist and academic researcher. Although he now spends most of his time either working in intense seclusion in his study, or as a flâneur meditating in cafés across the planet, 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.

His works are grouped under the general title Incerto (latin for uncertainty), composed of a trilogy accessible in any order (Antifragile, The Black Swan, and Fooled by Randomness) plus two addenda: a book of philosophical aphorisms (The Bed of Procrustes) and a freely available Technical Companion. Taleb's books have been published in thirty-three languages.

Taleb believes that prizes, honorary degrees, awards, and ceremonialism debase knowledge by turning it into a spectator sport.

""Imagine someone with the erudition of Pico de la Mirandola, the skepticism of Montaigne, solid mathematical training, a restless globetrotter, polyglot, enjoyer of fine wines, specialist of financial derivatives, irrepressible reader, and irascible to the point of readily slapping a disciple." La Tribune (Paris)

A giant of Mediterranean thought ... Now the hottest thinker in the world", London Times
"The most prophetic voice of all" GQ

Product Description

Review

Like Twain and Wilde before him, Taleb eats paradoxes for breakfast...The aphorism is Taleb to a tee. It showcases his wit and learning, and provides ways to fillet his enemies. All his usual suspects are present to be corrected: bankers, fools, politicians, journalists...Present, too, are his heroes: the curious, the intellectually anarchistic, the idle philosopher. (James Kidd Independent on Sunday)

[A] quirky, entertaining collection of aphorisms, covering everything from the web ("like a verbally incontinent person") to the injuriousness of doing too much work ("My idea of the sabbatical is to work for (part of) a day and rest for six") ... a wry, often hila­rious glimpse. (Robert Collins The Times)

About the Author

Nassim Nicholas Taleb spends most of his time as a flâneur, meditating in cafés across the planet. A former trader, he is currently Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University. He is the author of Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan, an international bestseller which has become an intellectual, social, and cultural touchstone.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Mark Harrison on 27 Nov. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a fan of Taleb since "Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets", I'd been looking forward to this.

I knew, before purchase, that it wasn't the same sort of book, but simply a collection of aphorisms, and there are some (very) good ones in there.

At its best, the book will the thought-provoking, and make you reconsider your approach to how most people in the West seem to approach their life.

At its worst, however, the book degenerates into fairly bland attacks on whichever groups Taleb seems not to like today, and at times drifts away from the aphorism into the sound-bite.

There's no doubt that the Author has a tremendous understanding of some of the major problems that the Economy (and wider Western civilisation since Plato) is facing, but I'm left feeling that the book wasn't, in the end, the right format to get his thinking across. I personally find Taleb at his best when writing literate, discursive, prose about the subject.

On balance, I have to give it 4 stars. This is a rare instance when I feel that a longer, more detailed, work would have been better.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By J. Vernon on 30 Jan. 2011
Format: Hardcover
This elegant little hardback is Taleb's latest publication (2010). It contains thoughts that carry straight on from his arguments in `Fooled by randomness' and `The Black Swan'. Instead of a narrative and argument in a full book, he presents us with his private almost-poetry. We are given a series of aphorisms, well spaced out, only four or five to a page. This slows us down and persuades us to pause to think about each cluster of words.

The aphorisms are generally witty and designed to provoke a fresh perspective. They do not have the frivolity of Oscar Wilde, and do not achieve his level of charming, mischievous humour. They are certainly often wise and counter-intuitive, shaking us out of a conventional, shallow view of our modern world. Some structure is given by clustering them in chapters, revealing the preoccupations with which his readers will already be familiar. For instance, there is a chapter called `Fooled by Randomness', one on `The scandal of prediction' and one on `Robustness and fragility'. However I don't see how some of the aphorisms fit into their categories.

Taleb is a wise man, and well worth listening to. His erudition and originality are on full display. Here are samples to give you a flavour:

"The calamity of the information age is that the toxicity of data increases much faster than its benefits."

"Mental clarity is the child of courage, not the other way round."

"You can only convince people who think they can benefit from being convinced."

"English does not distinguish between arrogant-up (irreverence towards the temporarily powerful) and arrogant down (directed at the small guy).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By S.Coda on 21 July 2011
Format: Paperback
I bought this book. I've read some of NT's other non academic works; they're fun but seem to be the product of some painful intellectual processes often leaving me blurry eyed and innervated. But while I don't understand everything he says here, this one has something angrily Zen about it and is accessible even to a slightly drunk comic on his way home from the pub.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Luis de Avendano on 31 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback
Having read and enjoyed Taleb's 'The Black Swan', I looked forward to reading an inexpensive volume of aphorisms. However, this book turns out to be a collection of pull quotes with very few aphorisms. Either the publishers tried to cash in on his name or Taleb can produce oysters but not pearls.
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By Yehezkel Dror on 21 Dec. 2013
Format: Paperback
Aphorisms are a classical way to present and convey in a nutshell wisdom based on contemplation and experience, as illustrated by the maxims of La Rochefoucauld and aphorism of Nietzsche. Taleb, in-between his books on The Black Swan and Antifragility, which I regard as very important, put together in this brief volume a short collection of aphorism.
The title, The Bed of Procrustes," presents an important idea, well presented in the Procrustes and the Postface: "We humans, facing limits of knowledge, and things we do not observe, the unseen and the unknown, resolve the tension by squeezing life and the world into crisp commoditized ideas, reductive categories, specific vocabularies, and prepackaged narratives..." (p. xii). And "Because our minds need to reduce information, we are more likely to try to squeeze a phenomenon into the Procrustean bed of a crisp and know category (amputating the unknown)...(p. 105); followed by "Out mental architecture is at an increasing mismatch with the world in which we life," leading to what the author appropriately calls "epistemic arrogance....imagining the territory as fitting his map" (p. 106).
These are important insights worthy of much attention, all the more so with humanity moving into an era of metamorphosis posing much that is unprecedented and also inconceivable.
The main body of the book includes about 300 aphorisms, some more striking, such as on randomness (p. 58); and some less so, as on Latin, mathematics and wisdom (p. 79).
My recommendation is to read this short book (114 pages including the preface) in one sitting, which should take about one hour, marking select aphorisms as requiring deeper pondering. And then consider these at leisure as stimuli for thinking, so as to benefit from their quanta of wisdom.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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