Do you like making up words? Nasem Taleb does. In his new book Antifragile (2012) he’s made up another new word. In his excellent book The Black Swan he coined the word Extremistan for domains where normal distributions do not apply. In this new book he’s started off with his new word.
An Antifragile object is something gets stronger when it is stressed by becoming more resistant to this kind of stress. Natural organisms are like this. Building muscle is an excellent example of how an antifragile system works. A fragile object, like a glass, becomes weaker each time it is stressed and will break once the stress is over a certain limit.
That’s the main idea of the book.
The question is whether the exposition of the idea over hundreds of pages makes a good read. I’d say it does. While it isn’t as good as ‘The Black Swan’ and is definitely too long Antifragile contains enough interesting ideas and is well written enough to make the journey a lot of fun.
Antifragile should have been better edited. It should be shorter. But reducing what Taleb says would be very difficult for any editor.
The ideas about education that seem to be similar to those of Alison Wolf who wrote the fascinating ‘Does Education Matter’ are interesting. Taleb’s description of how top down planning, or what he calls ‘The Soviet Harvard model’ is also very well described. His repeated references to Terence Kealey and his ideas that government funding has actually harmed research and today’s model of endless publication have some merit.
Antifragile is well worth the time it takes to read.