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The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms

(Incerto #3)

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  7,916 ratings  ·  746 reviews
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 col
Hardcover, 128 pages
Published November 30th 2010 by Random House
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Sabra Embury
Dec 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Taleb received a $4 million advance to write this book of aphorisms as a follow-up to the Black Swan.

Some of my favorites:

Academia is to knowledge what prostitution is to love; close enough on the surface but, to the nonsucker, not exactly the same thing.

I suspect that they put Socrates to death because there is something terribly unattractive, alienating and nonhuman in thinking with too much clarity.

Education makes the wise slightly wiser, but it makes the fool vastly more dangerous.

If you kno
PGR Nair
Oct 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Aphorisms Galore!

If for any literary fan, the country Lebanon brings to mind the tender, lyrical and mystical poet Khalil Gibran, we have another compatriot from Lebanon to remember for his scathing, caustic, intelligent and often cynical observations on our society. He is none other than Nicholas Nassim Taleb, the Lebanese American essayist and scholar whose main works focus on problems of randomness, probability and uncertainty.

His 2007 book “The Black Swan “was described in a review by Sunda
Jon Cone
Feb 07, 2011 rated it did not like it
This book of aphorisms has an introduction, in which the myth of Procrustes is told, and concludes with an essay which begins, "The general theme of my work is the limitation of human knowledge." Both introduction and concluding essay strike me as special pleading. Aphorisms need no defending. They stand on their own, if they are good. Too often Taleb's aphorisms fail because they lack the necessary iron, fire, mystery. They seldom surprise. In this book, Taleb accepts the traditional concerns o ...more
Jon Nakapalau
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
These aphorisms will give you a new perspective on the old issues we all have to deal with - a very good book on how to place problems in perspective.
Ryan Holiday
Jul 05, 2012 rated it liked it
I would have said it's incredibly unlikely that someone could put together a book of aphorisms during their lifetime that would be worth reading. It's probably fitting that Taleb could beat those odds. This book is theme around the myth of Procrustes--an ancient figure who would stretch or maim overnight guests so they could fit into his bed (instead of, you know, fitting the bed to them). It's kind of ironic that Taleb, coiner of the Narrative Fallacy, would put an overarching theme in a collec ...more
Mar 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2x, trading
probably my least favorite part of incerto, still 5/5.
Nov 18, 2013 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: No one
This had a few gems, but the author comes off as full of himself. He hates economists, journalists, nerds, academics, and Harvard professors. He thinks employment is slavery.
Krishna Kumar
May 18, 2015 rated it did not like it
In his earlier books about randomness, Taleb had shown glimpses of his uncompromising attitude towards his critics and his contempt for people who had made and lost millions on the stock market. But it was mixed with all the good stuff. Unfortunately, in this book, we only see his complexes revealed.

This book is unforgivable. It does contain some useful pearls of wisdom, but they are rare and surrounded by prejudices, attacks, snobbery and ignorance. The author has no sense of what happiness and
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a book having a Postface instead of a Preface.. A beautiful book full of Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms.
The story of 'The Bed of Procrustes' (a Greek myth) is metaphorized in every aphorism in this book.

We humans, facing limits of knowledge, and things do not observe, the unseen and the unknown, resolve the tension by squeezing life and the world into crisp commoditized ideas, reductive categories, specific vocabularies, and prepackaged narratives, which, on the occasion, has exp
Apr 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Taleb is fascinating. How does a guy who relentlessly attacks the credibility of economists and academics get invited to speak in front of them so often? He's utterly arrogant and abrasive, yet he has a certain appeal that is difficult to explain. Part of it undoubtedly stems from his main idea that revolves around "how we deal, and should deal, with what we don't know." It is interesting and applicable to so many aspects of life; investing, politics, literature, philosophy and more and since it ...more
Laura Noggle
So many aphorisms, so little time!

This would make a great little coffee table book, or something to occasionally pull out and flip through.

“Half of the people lie with their lips; the other half with their tears.”

“Meditation is a way to be narcissistic without hurting anyone.”

“You know you have influence when people start noticing your absence more than the presence of others.”
Khalid Alnaqbi
Jun 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Full of wisdom .. and egoism.
Dec 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A rare book. It probably has the highest usefulness to character ratio of any book I've found. Not to say that it's super useful, but it is very short.

The book is the equivalent of poring over Taleb's blog and twitter account for the past 10 years and picking out the stuff that is worth sharing. I can imagine the author's notebook that he kept witty and interesting-to-him stuff marked up, over and over, front and back of every page and margin. I think it would be interesting to read the notes an
May 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nassim Taleb is definitely not the sort I'd like to get to know personally as I don't agree with about half of his life philosophies. However, in my best Voltaire voice, while I disapprove of what he says, I will defend to the death his right to print it in books and make millions off them. As with such collections, there is a mix of some fantastic and deep aphorisms while there were also a few that made me go 'meh'. Overall though, once you overcome the fact that he keeps calling everyone incom ...more
May 02, 2022 rated it really liked it
“An idea starts to be interesting when you get scared of taking it to its logical conclusion.”

“If you know, in the morning, what your day looks like with any precision, you are a little bit dead—the more precision, the more dead you are”

“In science you need to understand the world; in business you need others to misunderstand it.”

“Economics cannot digest the idea that the collective (and the aggregate) are disproportionately less predictable than individuals.”

“Procrastination is the soul rebelli
Dave B.
Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Bed of Procrustes was a collection of aphorisms from Taleb that should be read several times before commenting on their insights. (Unfortunately, I am presenting a review after only a single reading, so readers should take my initial review with a grain of salt) Several inserts from Taleb focus on his criticism of the study of economic, impact of modernity and religion/traditionalism.
It appears that the author does not hold value in the economist or intelligence associated with its modern a
The Bed of Procrustes is a beautiful collection of aphorisms, best absorbed if already familiar with Nassim Nicholas Taleb through some of his other books. They all touch upon uncertainty and the limitations of knowledge (and the qualities of the unknown) but this one is special. This is the treat, the one you'll want to read over and over and ponder. While there is little to ponder in Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (it is either true - hence, to be ab ...more
Yousif Al Zeera
Oct 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is different than Nassim's other books. Aphorisms with a philosophical touch. Suitable for light reading, taking you through a journey of epistemology, ontology, aesthetics, ethics, fragility, ludic fallacy & domain dependence to the sacred & the profane, chance & probability, randomness and happiness. It revolves around an interesting theme, "The Bed of Procrustes" (Wikipedia: In Greek mythology, Procrustes or "the stretcher who hammers out the metal" was a rogue smith and bandit from ...more
Vagabond of Letters, DLitt
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it

I averaged about two highlights per page in this weird little book of econo-philosophico-theologico-amoro-logico-legico (anti-)wisdom, and that's enough of a recommendation in itself.

The author entitles the book 'Incerto 3', 'incerto' meaning the 'unpredictable' or 'random', cognate to English 'uncertain'. So, yes, the book is about as coherent as my neologized, pretend field of study invented up above. It's a book of sayings, of disjointed thoughts - some trite and some profound - on every
Tom Stamper
Apr 16, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: business
This book of aphorisms is best absorbed little by little and day by day the way one would read Marcus Aurelius. Not all are going to land on each reader, but the ones that evoke thought need to be stopped and analyzed. The two that stuck with me in paraphrase are:

Never hire someone that gives you more than one reason they want the job.

If someone asks you how to solve a particular problem, rather than tell them how you would do it, tell them how you wouldn't do it.
Nirav Savaliya
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
A Book full of thought provoking aphorisms, makes you think more and more on all the random activities (which you think are random but to some extent aren't!) that takes place around you everyday. This book changes how you look at people, government, organizations in a completely different way. Absolutely amazing finale, explains you why this book is called "The Bed of Procrustes" and why it matters!

Some of his ideas are quiet contradictory with mine and at some point I realized that he thinks h
Berk  Gurhan
Feb 16, 2015 rated it did not like it
Taleb wants us to revel in his bombastic philosophical high mindedness more than give the reader something palpable to meditate on. Lucky its a breezy read - if you can ignore his sheer pomposity that is.
C. Varn
Jan 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Taleb has made a living showing lack of robustness and fragility in our use of knowledge. Indeed, Taleb's discussion and prediction of the fiscal crises of the late aughts was totally earned, and he was aptly able to show in "The Black Swan" and "Fooled by Randomness" that epistemological humility was direly needed in both science reporting and economics. This book takes these trends and turns them into aphorism. Taking cues from Georg Christoph Lichtenberg and E.M. Cioran more than Nietzsche, T ...more
May 13, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written after The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, which deals with unexpected and unexpectable life changing events, this book is made of aphorisms about the paradox of fitting everything in a certain individual's (or, quite often, society's) limited patterns and oppinions, instead of an unbiased vision of the real facts. Some highly interesting, some not so much, overall a good spend of my time.

Note on the Romanian edition from Curtea Veche publishing house, translated by Corne
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"One of the problems with social networks is that it is getting harder and harder for others to complain about you behind your back."
Great read!
Rahul H
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
4 🌟

A good book especially if you want to gift someone. Few aphorisms are very thoughtful. Some were very absurd. Anyways, I think Mr Taleb has little hostile attitude towards economist 😅.
John de' Medici
Jan 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Have a feeling Academicians and Journalists weren't as psyched for this book... hehe

Mr. Taleb comes across arrogant and blatantly unapologetic in this book, but my oh my there is plenty of truth in what he has to say. We all need a slap in the face every once in a while I guess. There were several directed at me I felt as I went through this...

There a lot of brilliant aphorisms throughout the book... Here are some of favourites:

"I suspect that they put Socrates to death because there is somethi
Sebastian Gebski
It's not a typical book I'd read end-to-end. It doesn't address any single problem, doesn't cover a particular thesis, and doesn't try to answer some important question. It's just a collection of 'Talebesque' aphorisms - something you probe, taste, digest, 'thing through'. Some are controversial (the NNT way ;>), some are philosophical, some are aimed to be discussion-starters. In general, it's decent food for thought, especially if you have someone interested to discuss it with.

Wow, what a douche nozzle. This guy claims he has to take a ritual bath after talking with journalists, apparently because journalists are so . . . well . . . not remotely like Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The repeated uses of the terms "sucker" and "loser" also grated. But I suppose a kind and humble person wouldn't have thought of writing a book of aphorisms in the first place. ...more
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I think Taleb is at his best when writing aphorisms. I agree, he is extremely gifted. However, his other works can at times seem repetitive. There's none of that here. Probably it would be best if this was the first book one reads. Read the other ones then for expansive musings on the themes presented here in small bits of wisdom. ...more
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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 erro

Other books in the series

Incerto (5 books)
  • Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets
  • The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
  • Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
  • Skin in the Game: The Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life

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