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Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder [Hardcover]

Nassim Nicholas Taleb
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 27 2012
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

Frequently Bought Together

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder + The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: With a new section: "On Robustness and Fragility" + The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don't
Price For All Three: CDN$ 53.63

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Review

“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 favorite book among several good ones published in 2012. In addition to being an enjoyable and interesting read, Taleb’s new book advances general understanding of how different systems operate, the great variation in how they respond to unthinkables, and how to make them more adaptable and agile. His systemic insights extend very well to company-specific operational issues—from ensuring that mistakes provide a learning process to the importance of ensuring sufficient transparency to the myriad of specific risk issues.”—Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of PIMCO, Bloomberg

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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Brief Summary and Review Dec 9 2012
By A. D. Thibeault TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
*A full executive summary of this book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com.

The main argument: 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 or stress 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 major oversight, 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, all that lives, and all 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 design and approach these things (and profit from them), and failing to understand it can cause us to unwittingly harm or even destroy them (and be harmed by them).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What do we really know? Feb. 9 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Talbeb's contemplation on real knowledge. Under rigourous scrutiny, what do we really know? A profound book from one of today's most original thinkers. He addresses fundamental questions and suggests practical rules of thumb for dealing with the dilemmas of modern decision making, from medicine to investing. I had to read it twice, it turns coventional thinking on its head. One of the best books of the last 10 years.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Antfragility Should Become A Household Word Dec 12 2012
By Ian Robertson TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Nassim Taleb has written a very worthy companion to his previous two popular books - Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets and The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: With a new section: "On Robustness and Fragility". 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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas, book sometimes a little chaotic Sept. 16 2013
Format:Hardcover
Review courtesy of [...]

What’s the opposite of fragility? Most people say robustness, resilience, or strength. Most people, says Taleb, are wrong. Fragility is to be weakened by uncertainty or volatility, while resilience is to be unaffected by volatility. What we need is something strengthened by volatility and change – something antifragile.

In antiquity, Taleb points out, he would rather be the hydra which regrew two heads when one was cut off, rather than the phoenix, which rose identical from the ashes when destroyed, or the Gordian Knot, which fell apart at the first unexpected shock (a sword, to be specific). It’s not enough to ignore volatility; we must love volatility.

That, in a nutshell, is Antifragile. Like all the best ideas, it’s a simple idea with immediate, important, and interesting consequences. In particular, Taleb argues that the modern world, in its quest for efficiency and optimization, has ignored the effects of volatility. As a result, shocks (Black Swans) have catastrophic consequences. When one hits, however, we ask the wrong question. We demand to know why we failed to predict the housing bubble or disease outbreak, instead of asking ourselves why we built a system that is tremendously vulnerable to such shocks.

Instead of eliminating centralization and vulnerability in our systems, like big corporations or big bureaucracies, however, we keep trying to predict the future, an endeavor doomed to failure. Shocks, as Taleb has argued in other books, are rare, and so attempting to predict them is impossible because they happen so rarely – we never have enough data points to draw conclusions. (For the economists reading, he believes in fat tails).
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