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The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms [Hardcover]

Nassim Nicholas Taleb
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 30 2010 1400069971 978-1400069972
The Bed of Procrustes is a standalone book in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s landmark Incerto series, an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision-making in a world we don’t understand. The other books in the series are Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, and Antifragile.

By the author of the modern classic The Black Swan, this collection of aphorisms and meditations expresses his major ideas in ways you least expect.

The Bed of Procrustes takes its title from Greek mythology: the story of a man who made his visitors fit his bed to perfection by either stretching them or cutting their limbs. It represents Taleb’s view of modern civilization’s hubristic side effects—modifying humans to satisfy technology, blaming reality for not fitting economic models, inventing diseases to sell drugs, defining intelligence as what can be tested in a classroom, and convincing people that employment is not slavery.

Playful and irreverent, these aphorisms will surprise you by exposing self-delusions you have been living with but never recognized.

With a rare combination of pointed wit and potent wisdom, Taleb plows through human illusions, contrasting the classical values of courage, elegance, and erudition against the modern diseases of nerdiness, philistinism, and phoniness.

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The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms + Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder + Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets
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Praise for Nassim Nicholas Taleb
“The most prophetic voice of all.” —GQ
“The hottest thinker in the world.” —Bryan Appleyard, The Sunday Times (London)
“[Taleb writes] in a style that owes as much to Stephen Colbert as it does to Michel de Montaigne.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Idiosyncratically brilliant.” —Niall Ferguson, Los Angeles Times

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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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book... Dec 29 2010
My twelve year old son picked up the book at my local bookstore and could not put it down. While many of the aphorisms confused him, most made him think and he began to ask quite a few questions. Soon we were discussing various points and had more than a few laughs at the many victims of Taleb's wit. I wound up buying the book and picking up two extra copies as gifts for people who I am sure will enjoy reading discussing it, even if they are offended by some of Taleb's pronouncements.

Those that have read Taleb and are familiar with his books will have little trouble recognizing that the book is a further exploration of his theme of how individuals deal, and how they should deal, with what they do not know. And they will quickly find that Taleb's harsh view of fools is what it has always been. If you are easily offended and have the characteristics or opinions of those that Taleb skewers time after time you may not like this book. But if you have an open mind, an ego that does not need stroking, and thick skin you will probably love it.

As usual, Taleb is brilliant. His tone is sharp and his writing style is lucid. He begins by briefly going over the the myth of the cruel Procrustes (whose name meant 'the stretcher' in ancient Greek). Procrustes, whose real name may have been Damastes or Polyphemon, lived on an estate in Attica on the road between Athens and Eleusis. He would abduct travelers and provide them with a very nice diner. After the diner was over he would place them in his special bed where they would be fitted perfectly. That meant that those that were too short would be stretched while those that were too long would have their feet or legs chopped off.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars coffeebreak material to debate March 24 2011
By kris
I picked up this book, because I have read both of Nicolas' previous books and I found the concepts he discussed, to use his word, were robust. I won't go into details about the Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness as whoever is reading this review is likely familiar with at least one of them. So, about this book now. There is a worthy number of one-liners that can prompt one to say "yeah, it's crossed my mind, that makes sense, if someone of Nicolas' calibre has perceived it similarly it could be a good candidate for a pattern" amidst a litany of banal rants, paraphrases of opinion leaders' statements, and borrowed enunciations Indian spiritual gurus in the 80s and 90s made. Let me illustrate each by a couple of examples.

One-liners: "the test of originality for an idea is not the absence of one single predecessor but the presence of multiple but incompatible ones."; "the difference between true life and modern life equals the one between a conversation and bilateral recitations"

Banal rants: "what we call "business books" is an eliminative category invented by bookstores for writings that have no depth, no style, no empirical rigor, and no linguistic sophistication"; "real mathematicians understand completeness, real philosophers understand incompleteness, the rest don't formally understand anything"

Paraphrases: "anyone voicing a forecast or expressing an opinion without something at risk has some element of phoniness"; "a good foe is far more loyal, far more predictable, and, to the clever, far more useful than the most valuable admirer" (Robert Greene's 48 Laws of Power)

Borrowed enunciations: "art is one-sided conversation with the unobserved"; "if you want to annoy a poet, explain his poetry" (Osho has made the same comments using similar words.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Boring... Nov. 5 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Could not finish this book. Sorry. Do not buy this book. Stick to the Black Swan which is quite enough reading from this author.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking Material March 27 2013
By Patrick Sullivan TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This collection of aphorisms can best be described as, bullet points from Taleb`s other books. His ideas have been boiled down, into a list of maxims. The author identifies many critical errors, in other people`s thought process. This of course, makes for very interesting reading.

What brings down the rating, is Taleb`s bitter denunciations. There are certain groups of people, that Taleb does not like. And he makes no bones about telling you his opinions. In one reference, he compares academics to the profession of prostitution. Well you have been warned. Taleb has very sharp and sometimes poisonous evaluations.

This book has many provocative insights. However, the reader has to be prepared, to brush off many of the harsh pointed criticisms.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Oneliners Feb. 10 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Amusing oneliner for meeting people at diners or when writing to someone or even when writing an essay. But can be easily forgoten.
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