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I Read All 5 of Nassim Taleb’s Books So You Don’t Have To (They Rocked My World)

His revelations will challenge your beliefs and transform your thinking.

I Read All 5 of Nassim Taleb’s Books So You Don’t Have To (They Rocked My World)

‘Oh no, I spilled milk. Again’

Where I live, we get fresh milk delivered every other day. Since it is not pasteurized, I have to boil it.

More often than not, I am late to turn the burner off. Sometimes I spill a little, other times a lot.

Embrace the uncertainty, the mess, and the chaos. This is the message I get from Nassim Taleb.

As a serial milk-spiller, I like it.

Taleb’s work explores and discusses the ideas of probability, risk, randomness, uncertainty, and chance. I have almost a child-like fascination with his ideas. Honestly, they mirror my experiences of this world.

These 5 books belong to the ‘Incerto’ series written by him.

I Read All 5 of Nassim Taleb’s Books So You Don’t Have To (They Rocked My World)

The dance of chance.

This book is my definition of wisdom.

When I was little, I mentioned to my dad how plane travel is dangerous. He explained to me that countless planes fly every day.

Yet, a plane crash is an unlikely event and more people die on roads.

This example of his and others awakened me to this truth.

We tend to focus on the jarring occurrences while ignoring the facts.

Taleb’s thoughts continuously remind me of that example.

We are emotional creatures. Even if we know of our emotional biases, we will still fall prey to them.

“The epiphany I had in my career in randomness came when I understood that I was not intelligent enough, nor strong enough, to even try to fight my emotions.”

Taleb calls into question our obsession with patterns. We want to understand how stuff happens and we like to assign patterns to it.

In reality, there is no pattern.

The secret to success is luck. Hard work and dedication can help with mild success. Big events of success happen by chance.

“Mild success can be explainable by skills and labor. Wild success is attributable to variance.”

The author reminds us of the uncertainty of this world. If it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it would never do so.

The author’s main message is ‘All is random. Deal with it.’

The book is a bit unstructured because the author likes to write with the flow of his thoughts. Personally, I don’t mind that.

Another criticism that this book often receives is the author’s self-praise. Since Taleb’s style is blunt, he calls into question journalists, economists, MBA holders, and almost everyone else.

To some, it feels a bit over the top.

Here is my take.

Even if there are hints of arrogance, why shouldn’t we benefit from Taleb’s wisdom?

“No matter how sophisticated our choices, how good we are at dominating the odds, randomness will have the last word.”

The ideas in this book make you think about your life. You’ll be left pondering on the role of human errors, chance, and luck in our world.

I Read All 5 of Nassim Taleb’s Books So You Don’t Have To (They Rocked My World)

Ready or not, the black swan’s here.

What is a ‘Black Swan’ event?

Until 1697, we thought all swans were white. As we found out, black swans do exist.

Black Swan is an unpredicted event.

This book deals with exactly that.

Black swan events can occur in someone’s personal life or they can affect the whole society and the global world. A good example would be the 9/11 attacks.

Taleb reminds us that unpredictable events are far more likely to happen than not. And we should remember that.

If we don’t include uncertainty in our approach to life, we will be affected negatively by a black swan event.

Humans are prone to confirmation bias. Whatever we believe, we find evidence to support it.

To explain things, we like to use simple narratives drawing upon history. The reality, though, is far more complex.

I wholeheartedly agree.

Taleb is a rebel. He calls into question many institutions and people.

The author laments against the economists’ overreliance on a bell curve. He also thinks there is no need for a Nobel Prize in Economics.

He criticizes those who question religious leaders but fail to question experts from other fields.

“…these people will tell you that religion was horrible for mankind by counting deaths from … various religious wars. But they will not show you how many people were killed by nationalism, social science, and political theory under Stalin or during the Vietnam War.”

He calls people out using wit and humor. An example is as follows:

“If you hear a “prominent” economist using the word ‘equilibrium,’ or ‘normal distribution,’ do not argue with him; just ignore him, or try to put a rat down his shirt.”

In short, don’t be too sure of your predictions, for anything can happen.

I Read All 5 of Nassim Taleb’s Books So You Don’t Have To (They Rocked My World)

An unlikely transformation — stress into a superpower.

This is the third book of the series ‘Incerto’.

In the first two books, the author tells us that the world is random and that it is uncertain.

What do we do then? This book answers this question.

We have to become ‘antifragile.’

Taleb defines ‘antifragility’ as:

“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”

How can a shock or stress make something better?

Look at human muscles. When we put them under stress by exercising, they gain strength.

This can be said for several things. For example, when we are exposed to pathogens, our body gains immunity.

When children experiment with risk and danger, they develop physical and mental strength.

In short, we need uncertainty to reach our full potential.

“Trial and error is freedom.”

As someone comfortable with change, I am on board with Taleb’s approach.

I also think bubble-wrapping kids to keep them safe (of course this doesn’t happen literally) does more harm than good.

“Some can be more intelligent than others in a structured environment — in fact school has a selection bias as it favors those quicker in such an environment, and like anything competitive, at the expense of performance outside it.”

The author goes on to apply this to the market and financial institutions as well. To survive black swan events, the market needs to make itself robust i.e. antifragile.

He also asserts that for a system to be antifragile, the parts must be fragile. For example, a human can die. Humans are fragile. Through evolution, the system is antifragile. It means through the survival of the fittest, our species has been becoming better.

“Provided we have the right type of rigor, we need randomness, mess, adventures, uncertainty, self-discovery, near-traumatic episodes, all those things that make life worth living…”

To survive the chaotic world, we need to expect and embrace chaos, even benefit from it.

I Read All 5 of Nassim Taleb’s Books So You Don’t Have To (They Rocked My World)

Save time. Learn wisdom in one line.

Procrustes is a Greek mythological character. He used to abduct foreigners, feed them, and then put them to bed. For that, he had an insane ritual.

If the person was too big, he used to cut their limbs off. If they were short, he used to stretch them.

The aphorisms in this book are meant to challenge this world’s obsession with fitting reality to their ideas.

For example, making economics fit into economic models, confining intelligence to the walls of a classroom, and inventing diseases to sell drugs.

The world is random and uncertain. This is the message that the author has given us many times.

Perhaps, this book is his attempt to break down his thoughts into easily digestible sentences.

As a serial procrastinator, I liked reframing my procrastination, thanks to Taleb.

“Procrastination is the soul rebelling against entrapment.”

He attacks academia, as he has done before.

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

He continues his distaste for economists.

“The curious mind embraces science; the gifted and sensitive, the arts; the practical, business; the leftover becomes an economist…”

He is not wrong about the keyboard warriors when he says…

“When you beat up someone physically, you get excercise and stress relief; when you assault him verbally on the Internet, you just harm yourself.”

I would summarize this book as a collection of quotes. It would be a great addition to your home library. Perhaps, you can make a frame of the quotes that you like as well.

Since the author’s ideas intrigue me overall, I find these aphorisms pleasing. They make me think and reflect.

Are they your cup of tea?

Maybe you can order a copy and find out.

I Read All 5 of Nassim Taleb’s Books So You Don’t Have To (They Rocked My World)

Don’t run, face the burn.

Don’t listen to those who have nothing to lose.

“If you do not take risks for your opinion, you’re nothing.”

If you do something that harms others, there should be consequences.

Taleb is not for ‘all talk and no walk’. He applies this to everyone.

If a business is harming a population, and fears being sued, it will make them change their actions.

“If your private life conflicts with your intellectual opinion, it cancels your intellectual ideas, not your private life.”

In order to have equality, there need to be negative incentives as well.

Risk should be shared. When the people who are making the decisions know that they will also face negative results, i.e. ‘have skin in the game’, they will make the right decisions.

“Life is sacrifice and risk taking…”

For example, many people who support war, have no intention of dying in one.

Taleb also coined the term, ‘Intellectual Yet Idiot’ in this book.

To him, ‘Intellectual Yet Idiots’ are those who are somewhat intelligent, are in a minority, and have control over the majority. This includes policymakers, journalists, and academics.

They tell us, “1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for…”

“Freedom is always associated with risk taking, whether it leads to it or comes from it.”

In short, don’t say it without meaning it. If you don’t want it for yourself, don’t go around lecturing people about it.

Similarly, those who wouldn’t suffer if their advice goes wrong, don’t listen to them.

The idea makes total sense. But how can it be applied in this uncertain, chaotic world is a valid question.

In One Sentence

Based on what I’ve learned, I’d like to summarize the lessons of these books in one sentence each.

  1. Fooled by Randomness— Our world is random.

  2. The Black Swan — Our world is uncertain and unpredictable.

  3. Antifragile— We should become stronger from uncertain events.

  4. The Bed of Procrustes— Here is bite-sized knowledge so you know that the world is random, uncertain, and complex.

  5. Skin in the Game— Until they share the loss caused by their suggestions, actions, or advice, don’t trust them.


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