“Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto #4),” by Nassim M. Taleb

AntiFragile Cover

Antifragile Cartoon

The core idea behind this book is simple and quite enticing. Nassim Nicholas Taleb divides the world and all that’s in it (people, things, institutions, ways of life) into three categories: the fragile, the robust and the antifragile.

ANTIFRAGILE Hydra
The Hydra Exemplifies Antifragiility. Cut off its head and it grows two back.

According to the author, Mr. Taleb, all living systems are subject to stress, random events and disorder. Those that break are fragile, those that resist adaptation are robust. Those that adapt, gain new capability, understanding, and strength are antifragile.

Antifragile-Chart

We should all strive to be “antifragile.”

AntiFragile GraphAntifragile Convexity

Antifragile That which doesn't kill me

Discussion Questions:

1). The core idea behind this book is simple and enticing.  Taleb divides the world and all that’s in it (people, things, institutions, ways of life) into three categories: The fragile, the robust and the antifragile.  What is Antifragility?  Can you think of examples of systems that are “antifragile”?

Antifragile Sandstorm-in-Riyadh-Saudi
In the eye of the storm. Taleb says the least antifragile state in the world is Saudi Arabia

2). A reader could easily run out of adjectives to describe Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. The first ones that come to mind are: maddening, bold, repetitious, judgmental, intemperate, erudite, reductive, shrewd, self-indulgent, self-congratulatory, provocative, pompous, penetrating, perspicacious, discursive, and pretentious.  What adjective would you use to describe the book?

Antifragile Stick Man

3). In that vein, while the book’s core idea is succinct and innovative, some say the book that houses it is just the opposite—A big, baggy, sprawling mess.  A hard going.  Do you agree with this assessment?  Is so, how could the book be better?

Antifragile Cartoon Boring

4). In Mr. Taleb’s view, “We have been fragilizing [sic] the economy, our health, political life, education, almost everything” by “suppressing randomness and volatility,” much the way that “systematically preventing forest fires from taking place ‘to be safe’ makes the big one much worse.”   Do you agree with this view?  What, if any, solutions does Taleb offer?

Antifragile bear-prevent-forest-fires-cartoon-390x220

5). Antifragile is trying to be two things at once: a philosophical treatise and a how-to guide for living. Can you think of a way to apply the book’s principles to your life?

Antifragile Live Life Cartoon

Antifragilei Overprotective Mom
Are you teaching fragility?

6). Taleb is deeply and depressingly nostalgic for the virtues of the ancients; their stoicism, tolerance for suffering, and sharp justice.  Would we really be better off, for example, if we followed Hammurabi’s Code and put architects to death whenever one of their buildings fell down?

Antifragile Sparta
Making America Great Again?

7). Would you recommend this book to others?  Why or why not?

Antifragile Cartoon Chicken

About the Author:

Antifragile Author Picture

Nassim Nicholas Taleb spent 21 years as a risk taker (quantitative trader) before becoming a flaneur and researcher in philosophical, mathematical and (mostly) practical problems with probability.

Taleb is the author of a multivolume essay, the Incerto (The Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness, Antifragile, and Skin in the Game) an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision making when we don’t understand the world, expressed in the form of a personal essay with autobiographical sections, stories, parables, and philosophical, historical, and scientic discussions in nonover lapping volumes that can be accessed in any order.

In addition to his trader life, Taleb has also written, as a backup of the Incerto, more than 50 scholarly papers in statistical physics, statistics, philosophy, ethics, economics, international affairs, and quantitative finance, all around the notion of risk and probability.

Taleb is currently Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering (only a quarter time position). His current focus is on the properties of systems that can handle disorder (“antifragile”).

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

 

 

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