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Book Review: "Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder", by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Incerto Series:

I'm a pretty fearful guy, and I think a lot of those fears stem from personal insecurities of one flavor or another. Yet the biggest thing I'm terrified of is stability. I know I can't protect me and mine from the world, I can only prepare for it. More than anything, I want to be in tune with the chaos of the world. So I think “Antifragile” is a great mentality for me personally to adopt.

In this book, Taleb builds on the concept of “Black Swans” to build systems that can become stronger from chaos, that gain from events that make fragile systems collapse. He mentions that in reality, antifragility is all around us in nature. The human body is highly redundant, and can even be antifragile, with the human body recognizing and killing off thousands of cancers every day. The only reason antifragility is increasing and ever-present in our modern-day society is because we've over-optimized aspects of our lives for short-term gains. This book argues for a reversal of that trend, and presents why.

One anecdote from the book stood out to me, and it's the story of two brothers and two careers. One brother works a normal white-collar job, the other one works as a taxicab driver. The white-collar brother earns a steady paycheck, while the taxicab driver has earnings all over the place. Yet Taleb mentions how the taxicab driver, over a long period of time, earns about as much as the white-collar worker, while also gaining a great deal of information about the state of his market and ancillary information from his clients, which enable him to make much better decisions regarding his career like which platform to use and what parts of the city to frequent. So when dark days come, he's well prepared (unlike the white-collar worker who gets laid off “unexpectedly”), and when prosperous days come he makes his gains (unlike the white-collar worker who has to fight for a meager raise). The taxicab driver in this situation is antifragile.

I see value in antifragility in parts of my life too. My desktop operating system (Linux) is not terribly great with system updates while staying up, and therefore every time I update / upgrade my system I have to risk my processes shutting down. Yet this has forced me to invest in my personal infrastructure much more greatly, which means if my laptop ever got stolen or broken (a Black Swan event), I can move to a new laptop much more easily. I feel rather good about the state of my life in that arena, even though to be honest I could still have much to improve, because getting the right principle and going from 0 to 50 is much more difficult (and much more valuable) than going from 50-100.

This is the second book in the Incerto series, and I look forward to reading the remaining books, “The Bed of Procrustes” and “Fooled by Randomness”.