Customer Review

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well hidden treasure, 19 Nov 2013
This review is from: Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In the 500 pages of this book there is a really good 50-page extended essay, which is a bit obscured by the increasingly idiosyncratic writing. I can't complain because I knew what I was letting myself in for, having previously read the Fooled by Randomness and Black Swan books and this is really just a continuation in both content and style. In fact one of his earlier books has actually changed my life in a very real way - about five years ago I gave up reading newspapers after decades of ploughing through at least one of the broadsheets every day - so I don't take him lightly.

I think it is fair to say that Taleb could do with a strong-willed editor. There is a well-known principle in presentations that you need to reinforce an ide through repetition (tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you have told them) and this takes that idea to extremes with a list of contents that spans nine pages, then three pages of chapter summaries and then a prologue that basically summarises the whole book in a few pages. Each section of the book has a brief summary as does each chapter in the section. In addition to that there is an appendix to the prologue (!) an epilogue and 80 pages of index, appendices, notes, bibliography and acknowledgements. The point is that you can cutout 20% of the pages and still be left with the whole book to read.

As for the actual meat of the book, it can get a bit ranty. The author has a long list of people he doesn't like and misses no opportunity to lay into them. His targets include bureaucrats, bankers, experts, risk managers, journalists, Alan Greenspan, economists (he refers to them as "economists and other lunatics"), 'ivy-leaguers', academics, Aristotle, scientists (who he refers to as "so-called scientists") and Davos attenders. While many of us might not have a lot of time for many on the list (especially journalists and bankers) Taleb seems to make it all very personal.

At the very least it makes the book read like Father Ted's acceptance speech for the Golden Cleric awards, at worst it makes the book read like the rantings of a conspiracy theorist. It does not help that he invents grand-sounding names for people and then capitalises them, so he refers to 'the Soviet-Harvard Delusion' or the 'Central Fragilista Delegation' or refers to Alan Greenspan as the 'Uber-Fragilista Alan Greenspan'. Normally, if you hear somebody delivering something in this style (the style of David Icke or a bearded bloke yelling on a street corner) you switch off. That would be a shame here because there are some interesting ideas hidden away.

Fortunately, all this ranting is as amusing to read as it is annoying. I kind of picture Victor Meldrew reading it.

There are a few people that Taleb seems to like, but not many: Benoit Mandelbrot, Thales, Seneca, Steve Jobs and Ayn Rand.

I don't think Taleb would like me. Not because of this review (he says he likes criticism) and not (just) because my day job is in risk management, but because I appreciate the points he is making but don't ever intend to completely buy into his philosophy. Yes the ideas of optionality and asymmetry seem to work but I'll add them to many of the other theories out there and adapt them. I think Taleb would prefer some ideal world where everything and everyone just followed his ideas.

Unfortunately, his ideas carried to the logical conclusion are not practical. He considers the ideal way of life to be some sort of mediterranean agrarian life with everybody living an artisan lifestyle and no employees, which is not practical with out huge populations and our collective expectations as consumers.

None of this is to say the book is rubbish. The author is the current in-vogue thinker with the in-vogue big idea (Black Swans) which replaces 'Nudge' as the big idea, which replaced 'Tipping Points', 'The Wisdom of Crowds' and 'Long Tails' as previous big ideas, and this big idea does really get you thinking about some pretty big ideas - some of them pretty scary if Taleb is right.

Anybody who has read and enjoyed books by writers such as Levit & Dubner, Daniel Kahneman, Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Ariely or Jonathan Haidt would enjoy this book, or at least appreciate it. Anybody else mightdo, but should probably try something friendlier first and start with Freakonomics or Thinking Fast and Slow.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines ">here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking on the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in


Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Mar 2014 19:47:36 GMT
Nik says:
IIRC, the 'sweet spot' for repeating such information is thrice. Beyond that, folk fidget and doodle, text or day-dream...

I remember a 'middle manager' who *loved* training us ad nauseam. He would repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat and repeat, getting louder and louder, belabouring the utterly obvious until he'd wasted an engineer-month and totally dissipated any interest in the topic. When he finally ran out of steam, he would have no time left to answer questions on subtle stuff his narrow focus had missed, and we'd lost too much day-light to tackle one-shift jobs...

My last words before leaving his employ were, "... so for Pete's sake, PUT A SOCK IN THE SERMONS !!"
‹ Previous 1 Next ›

Review Details


3.9 out of 5 stars (114 customer reviews)
5 star:
4 star:
3 star:
2 star:
1 star:
25.00 20.00
Add to basket Add to wishlist

A. Skudder

Location: Crawley, West Sussex

Top Reviewer Ranking: 846