Marcus's Reviews > The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms

The Bed of Procrustes by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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's review
Apr 28, 2011

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bookshelves: non-fiction, philosophy
Read from April 26 to 28, 2011

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 is, by his own admission, all he talks about, it makes him really interesting to listen to.

A lot of his aphorisms deal with what it takes to be clever, witty, magnificent, generous, erudite and humble, himself being the implied example for each of these. Through his arrogance though, there seems to be a certain insecurity about him. He constantly criticizes people who are not like him (anyone who works out in gyms or uses technology heavily, all economists, people who are over 30 and still employed or not wealthy etc.) while justifying his own lifestyle. His wisdom often feels more like a recipe for how to live like Taleb rather than any transcendental truth. Still, there are plenty of good ones, for example:

"There is no intermediate state between ice and water but there is one between life and death: employment"

"You don't become completely free just by avoiding to be a slave; you also need to avoid becoming a master."

"There are two types of people: those who try to win and those who try to win arguments. They are never the same."

"Every social association that is not face to face is injurious to your health."

"Randomness is indistinguishable from complicated, undetected, and undetectable order; but order itself is indistinguishable from artful randomness."

"They agree that chess training only improves chess skills but disagree that classroom training (almost) only improves classroom skills."

So some are good, pithy, insightful etc.; what an aphorism should be, and while the book is worth reading, it's pretty hit or miss, far from the master of the aphorism, Nicolás Gómez Dávila.
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