A stimulating modern rejoinder to Joseph Schumpeter’s notion of creative destruction.




Engineer and trend-watcher Taleb builds on his best-selling hit The Black Swan (2007) to limn a world of uncertainty and chaos.

The world is a fragile place, full of surprises. Humans—and especially their markets—hate surprises in general. Small wonder, then, that we spend so much effort trying to make our buildings earthquake-proof and our computers virus-proof, that things prophylactic (no, not that) occupy so much of our thoughts. Taleb calls this “antifragility,” writing, “Just as we cannot improve health without reducing disease, or increase wealth without first decreasing losses, antifragility and fragility are degrees on a spectrum.” This being a book meant to solve big-picture problems that may or may not be real for most readers, Taleb urges that many of our efforts are misguided, if understandable. He scorns the “fragilistas” so afraid of their own shadows that they put systems into place “in which the benefits are small and visible, and the side effects potentially severe and invisible.” His current tract is meant as a corrective, and it’s mostly successful at what it aims to do, if sometimes a little daunting—readers are asked, for instance, to grapple with terms such as “apophatic,” “hormesis” and “Mithridatization,” all useful but thorny all the same. In what a college comp instructor might mark as a shift in diction, however, he throws in more familiar language: “Redundancy is not necessarily wussy; it can be extremely aggressive.” And good thing, too. Touring the landscape of uncertainty, Taleb conjures up a few first principles and praises a few models, not least of them Seneca, the great Stoic philosopher who also “happened to be the wealthiest person in the Roman Empire.” Mostly, though, the book is an accumulation of small examples and counterexamples, more suggestive than prescriptive.

A stimulating modern rejoinder to Joseph Schumpeter’s notion of creative destruction.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6782-4

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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