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74 of 77 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oddly mixed
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...
Published on 27 Nov 2010 by Mark Harrison

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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Am I a sucker too?
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...
Published on 30 Jan 2011 by J. Vernon


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74 of 77 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oddly mixed, 27 Nov 2010
By 
Mark Harrison (West Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
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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
3.0 out of 5 stars Am I a sucker too?, 30 Jan 2011
By 
J. Vernon (Surrey, UK) - See all my reviews
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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)."

"To understand the liberating effect of asceticism, consider that losing all your fortune is much less painful than losing only half of it."

"Suckers think that you can cure greed with money, addiction with substances, expert problems with experts, banking with bankers, economics with economists and debt crises with debt spending."

You may notice that he blends a wide vocabulary with American idioms such as `Guy' and `Sucker', which lends a disconcerting instability to his voice. But he generally achieves the balance of an epigrammatic style, and there is an immediate impact for most of his aphorisms, plus an added sequence of afterthoughts, akin to the sensation of a perfume.

I remain a fan of Mr Taleb, and would urge others to read this book too. However I have a complaint that must be articulated. This may sound like an `ad hominem' attack. I agree that the `ad hominem' riposte of questioning a man's motives or qualifications for saying something is inadmissible in civilised argument. His book is not an argued case, but much closer to a literary work, hence I believe this complaint is valid.

The author has made a lot of money trading options, and more recently from the sales of his books. Fine, and the best of luck to him. Possibly he is the beneficiary of randomness, as he may admit. Now he sets himself up as a philosopher and part poet. He has valuable things to say, but (and here is my complaint) he adopts a sneering tone against the majority of humanity, believing himself as someone much superior in understanding and heroism. I find it hard to stomach his long stream of aphorisms despising those having to work - which is the majority of us. Hence he shows a lack of respect for the readers.

"Work destroys your soul by stealthily invading your brain during the hours not officially spent working."

"There is no intermediate state between ice and water but there is one between life and death: employment."

"Karl Marx, a visionary, figured out that you can control a slave better by convincing him that he is an employee."

And so on. Mr Taleb has revealed too much of his nasty side, diminishing himself. While he sits on his millions in Treasury Bills, I can do without the sound of him snickering as I trudge off to earn an honest penny. Where is his heroism in this attitude?

I receive the distinct impression he regards me as a 'sucker'. For that reason I mark him down to a 3 in this review, which is an average of the 5 I want to give him at some moments and the 1 I want to throw back at him at other moments.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Because there was a lovely owl on the cover, 21 July 2011
This review is from: The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 31 Dec 2011
This review is from: The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some brilliance, mixed with arrogance and pettiness, 2 Sep 2011
By 
Overall I liked this book and enjoyed reading much of it. I actually read it twice, but then given its length that is not terribly demanding or time consuming. There are some flashes of brillance here. I have to admit to being biased and being a fan of the very different other books Tabel has written. A personal favourite: "There are two types of people: those who try to win and those who try to win arguments. They are never the same." I'm sure we can all think of people who fall into either camp.

So why only 3 stars? Well I have a few criticisms. Firstly, Taleb makes the valid point early on that "aphorisms lose ther charm whenever explained". Whilst he never actually explains any of them, he often uses footnotes and additional comments in brackets which try to explain or justify the aphorism and hence reduce its charm. Secondly, I really hate the use of the words "sucker" and "nerd". I would have thought such a good writer could have found better, more timeless, synonyms. Finally, there are problems with some of the aphorims themselves. Some are quite brilliant, but there is a slightly lecturing tone to many - more indicating what is wrong than right. There is a definite air of superiority (though to be fair, if anyone has a right to feel superior it is a serious intellectual who has also made a fortune as a trader). But worst of all, some of the points are really down right petty snipes at easy targets. Hardly the approach of a Aristotlean "great soul".

So if you want an interesting, different sort of read and some great insights - go ahead and get a copy. If you are looking for concentrated and consistent brilliance, then you may be disapointed.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery Book Report, 14 April 2011
A better title for "The Bed of Procrustes" might have been "Crusts of Bread from a Pro."

The classically accented moniker refers to a character in Greek mythology who fed guests at his road house and, afterward, either cut off some part of their body to fit the bed he offered them, or stretched them to achieve the same.

Author Nassim Nicholas Taleb resorts to Procrustes' bed as a parable for modern thought.

Taleb says his collection of disparate aphorisms are about the Procrustean bed in which humanity currently reclines, "facing limits of knowledge, and things we do not observe, the unseen, resolve the tension by squeezing life and the world into crisp commoditized ideas, reductive categories, specific vocabularies, and prepackaged narratives, which, on the occasion, has explosive consequences."

Fair enough, although it was not easy for highwayscribery to see a way that, "You never win an argument until they attack your person," however true, fits into the author`s main idea of "how we deal, and should deal, with what we don`t know..."

Not to say that there are no engaging or provoking passages found in this mélange of thoughts plucked from Taleb's mind.

highwayscribery liked this one and found it fitting the author's purposes:

"Pharmaceutical companies are better at inventing diseases that match existing drugs, rather than inventing drugs to match existing diseases."

Then there is this one, which many would probably take issue with:

"To understand the liberating effect of asceticism, consider that losing all your fortune is much less painful than losing only half of it."

Tell that to Bernie Madoff's clients.

As a journalist, highwayscribery took exception to this offering as well:

"An erudite is someone who displays less than he knows; a journalist or consultant, the opposite."

In fact, if you're a businessperson or academic or, worse, hold down a job, you may find yourself among those polluting the purity of classical thought Mr. Taleb so reveres:

"Karl Marx, a visionary, figured out that you can control a slave much better by convincing him he is an employee."

"The Bed of Procrustes," is littered with criticisms of those who aren't lucky enough to have Random House pay them for musings conjured during long, carefree walks through a blessed and jobless existence.

There may be, for certain readers, something off-putting about the author's deigning to know what is right from wrong. These aphorisms imply that Taleb is on the side of the angels he hopes to hook us up with.

To wit:

"I suspect that they put Socrates to death because there is something terribly unattractive, alienating, and nonhuman in thinking with too much clarity."

(The way I, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, do).

Anyway, this assembly of vaguely organized sentiments possesses its gems and is usually entertaining, which may or may not have been the author's intent. You don't have to agree with every thought you read to be engaged.

Besides, if nobody assumed they were smarter than the rest of us, there'd be no books attempting to advance our thinking.

Perhaps affecting this assessment is the fact highwayscribery is unfamiliar with Taleb's earlier effort, "The Black Swan," which appears to be his signature work and the foundation upon which "The Bed of Procrustes" is built.

Which is another way of saying those who seek this book may gain more than those who are found by it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great fun!, 3 July 2014
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I don't necessarily think its bible that you should use to guide your life, but its very witty and a lot of fun. I was reading this out loud with friends.
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5.0 out of 5 stars QUANTA OF WISDOM, 21 Dec 2013
By 
Yehezkel Dror (Jerusalem Israel) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (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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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars How to talk bull and dress it in a cloak of bogus profoundness, 24 Jun 2013
This review is from: The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (Paperback)
Everyone has an embarrassing family member (let's call him uncle Bob) that fancies himself as a philosophical pundit. You swerve to avoid Bob at family gatherings. Bob is the kind of chap that belly-laughs at Christmas cracker jokes. This book is the literary embodiment of Bob.

Alas, I really wanted to like this book and was excited by its promises. "Wry, hilarious, entertaining, maddeningly wise" the appraisal on the cover touts. What could possibly go wrong? I was also attracted by the fact that it is a 'toilet book' comprising of random quippets that you can dip in and out of. Yet sadly, the book itself belongs down the toilet. A mere 1% is worth quoting. The rest is drivel masquerading as devine insight. Take the following typical example:

"It takes a lot of intellect and confidence to accept that what makes sense doesn't really make sense" (p84).

Yawn. If disingenuous fallacies are your cuppa, you'll have a tea party with this rag.
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22 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars As Deep as Hollywood, 19 Dec 2010
By 
Leblon (Rome, Italy) - See all my reviews
Seems like financiers (see Soros), once they've made their money, feel the burning need to go beyond the materialistic and gain pseudo-respect as intellectuals. Just like Hollywood stars, and musicians, who become annoyingly self-righteous and patronizing, and begin adopting under-privileged children, join cults, and just generally feel obliged to 'preach' to the rest of the world (all of which is just stomach cringing and rightfully derided by pretty much all intelligent people, minus a few very devoted and usually very young followers of those celebrities).

This book is just that, the equivalent of a Hollywood actor 'teaching' the world...
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The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms
The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Paperback - 7 July 2011)
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