Nasim Nicholas Taleb – Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
Taleb, at least in his writing, has an off-putting personality. That is in full effect in Antifragile, moreso than in his other books. There is also plenty of counterintuitiveness-for-its-own-sake that make Taleb popular with people who like TED talks a little too much. But as with Taleb’s other books, there is still some good insights that make worth wading through the pretense and occasional New Age quackery.
As far as the title, something is fragile if stress makes it weaker. It is robust if stress doesn’t affect it. And something is anti-fragile is stress actually strengthens it; think of how muscles respond to weightlifting, or an immune system after learning how to fight a disease. Taleb’s goal is to find ways to make financial markets, technologies, and public policies anti-fragile, and not fragile or merely robust.
One insight is that market volatility can actually make financial markets anti-fragile. Suppose the stock market plummets and reaches a two-year low. This will scare some skittish investors out of the market altogether, leaving only hardier, usually more expert investors left to evaluate investments and drive their prices. In this way, policies designed to prevent market volatility can actually make financial markets more prone to crashes, not less.
There are also some things in Anti-Fragile that can be safely ignored. This includes Taleb’s workout and dietary recommendations, his inconsiderate habit of only scheduling appointments same-day, his fondness for running shoes with articulated toes, or his unsubtle bragging about speaking three languages, having homes in two countries, and being able to read an entire book on London-New York flights, which he is sure to let the reader know he takes regularly. This is a book that offers some food for thought, along with plenty of opportunities to practice eye-rolling.