Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Review of "The Bed of Procrustes"

I just received my copy of Nassim Taleb's "The Bed of Procrustes". When opening the box that it came in, I was originally disappointed that the book was so small; additionally, I was on the verge of being upset when seeing that it was (in my mind) "only" a bunch of aphorisms... When I pre-ordered the book, I didn't read a thing about it; I simply saw that it was by Taleb. Given that I generally get a lot out of his other books, essays, and lectures, I immediately ordered it (without even reading the title, which told me that it contained a bunch of aphorisms!).

However, once I got to reading it, I was quite happy, and, to some extent, would consider it to be a modern, more random version of "Poor Richard's Almanac". The book is great. While it takes little time to read, I will be thinking about it for a long time.

In regards to the name of the book the story of Procrustes is an interesting one. Taleb argues that we often try to artificially fit things into beds in which they don't belong. In my own case, my initial negative reaction to this very good read serves as a good, and most immediate example of my being stupid.

I am sure that I will revisit this book many times, as there are so many things in it that should be thought on for a long period. Much like with Walden, I find it best to read a few pages (if that much), stop, and then simply think.

Here are some of my favorite snippets:

"In science you need to understand the world; in business you need others to misunderstand it."

"An idea starts to be interesting when you get scared of taking it to it's logical conclusion."

"Pharmaceutical companies are better at inventing diseases that match existing drugs, rather than inventing drugs to match existing diseases."

"If your anger decreases over time, you did injustice; if it increases, you suffered injustice."

"Those who do not think that employment is systemic slavery are either blind or employed."

"The web is an unhealthy place for someone hungry for attention." [how ironic that I am putting this on my non-anonymous blog, eh? ;D]

"Decomposition, for most, starts when they leave the free, social and uncorrupted college life for the solitary confinement of professions and nuclear families."

"What made medicine fool people for so long is that its successes were prominently displayed and its mistakes (literally) buried."

"What I learned on my own I still remember."

"Nation-states like war; city-states like commerce; families like stability; and individuals like entertainment."

"For the robust, an error is information; for the fragile, an error is an error."

"When you beat up someone physically, you get exercise and stress releif; when you assault him verbally on the Internet, you just harm yourself."

"My best example of domain dependence of our minds, from my recent visit to Paris: at lunch in a French restaurant, my friends ate the salmon and threw away the skin at dinner, at a sushi bar, the very same friends ate the skin and threw away the salmon."

"The problem of knowledge is that there are many more books on birds written by ornithologists than books on birds written by birds and books on ornithologists written by birds."

"The ancients knew very well that the only way to understand events was to cause them."

"For Seneca, the Stoic sage should withdraw from public efforts when unheeded and the state is corrupt beyond repair. It is wiser to wait for self-destruction."

"The left holds that because markets are stupid models should be smart; the right holds that because models are stupid markets should be smart. Alas, it never hit both sides that both markets and models are very stupid." (surprising that a libertarian leaning guy would like that, eh?)

"The difference between banks and the Mafia: banks have a better legal-regulatory expertise, but the Mafia understands public opinion."

"For company, you often prefer those who find you more interesting over those you find interesting."

This one is probably my favorite, due to just how simple and obvious it is... Really, it seems to summarize the book:

"The tragedy of virtue is that the more obvious, boring, unoriginal, and sermonizing the proverb, the harder it is to implement."

Disclosure: None. I actually paid for this book AND will receive absolutely nothing if you buy a copy.


Jake Taylor said...

This is on the top of my reading list. Thanks for the review.

Temujin said...

Thanks for the review! Will keep an eye out. A bit like Sun Tzu.. :)