Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This is the third book of his I've read, after "Fooled by Randomness" and "The Black Swan".
Taleb is well known and justifiably smug about being prepared for, and prospering by, the financial crisis. "Antifragile" tries to extend his ideas further into more realms of politics and everyday life.
"Antifragile" is a term he uses to describe systems that are actively strengthened by small shocks. This is not the same as "resilience" or "robustness", qualities which endure shocks, but don't improve because of them. His clearest examples are systems of banking and capitalism made up of many small firms, where small shocks weed out the weakest firms, leaving the overall system stronger. Systems where there are a few large banks and firms are fragile: a large shock can cause immense harm.
He also gives several examples form the human body, where exercise makes you stronger by tiring you in the short term. (Other examples there are less convincing: I'm not convinced that the progressive poisoning to make you immune to poison does more good than harm.)
Taleb is also keen on Stoicism, and regards some of the aspects of stoicism as making you antifragile, though he doesn't give much detail.
Antifragility is sometimes a property of the individual unit, but sometimes of the whole system. Evolution and capitalism work by eliminating the weaker units, which isn't particularly nice if you're in one of them.
It's an interesting enough idea, but I think Taleb tries to extend it too far. For instance, it seems to me that sometimes there is a trade-off between antifragility and robustness. Taleb says that leagues of city-states are antifragile, where centralized states are fragile. However, if you look at the way leagues of city-states have been gobbled up by their centralized neighbours, it seems that antifragility has lost out the the greater strength of centralization.
For another example, some nations have kept out flooding by large-scale flood defences. If every individual tried to flood-proof their house, that would be a more antifragile solution: but not necessarily a better one.
It seems to me unlikely that antifragility is always the best solution in all circumstances: there are going to be situations where you lose out onm economies of scale, greater strength, greater robustness because of it. Without some guide to when antifragility best applies, the idea isn't immensely useful in all domains.
Taleb also links the concept of Antifragility to a kind of Burkean conservatism, where he's skeptical of big ideas, grand plans, and innovations. Again though, while it's often better to adapt, sometimes a complete rebuilding is useful: the important thing is to judge when.
Overall: fairly interesting, but I think his earlier books are better to start with.
What I'm Reading 2
Deep Sleeper by Phil Hester, illustrated by Mike Huddleston. Comic about a man who finds his dreams leading him into a world of people who astrally project themselves.
Some effective black and white artwork of figures dissolving into shapes. The storyline is OK, though a bit predictable. It's quite like the "Ghost Story" Dresden files book.
Overall, good comic, worth a look.
Articles. Stalin the editor.
Sci/Tech. LinkedIn endorsements designed to be viral (not useful).
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