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Antifragile Book Review

I ran across this book while surfing the Wired website. The title Beware the Big Errors of ‘Big Data’ seemed intriguing.  I am an IT consultant always on the prowl for the next big thing.  Big data has pushed the hype-o-meter deep into the red zone.   So naturally Nassim Taleb’s critical post caught my eye.  I had suspicions that “Big Data” was somehow flawed.  After reading his book Antifragile I have a new wariness of “experts” and the data they use to support their claims.

Antifragile is a lens through which to view all kinds of relationships.  Antifragile is a word that Nassim made up to describe things that “Gain from disorder”  To fully illustrate the concept he has a nice grid in the book where he takes various areas of modern society and puts them along the fragile-robust-antifragile continuum.  It is surprising the areas that this concept of Antifragile can be applied: Medicine, Economics, Politics and most other complex areas of modern society

For something to be Antifragile it needs to improve or get stronger the more it is attacked.  The best illustration is from greek mythology where the continuum is Sword of Damocles – Phoenix – Hydra.  The Sword of Damocles is poised to drop and is very fragile.  The Phoenix is robust in that it can take punishment and retain its form.  The Hydra is an amazing creature that gets stronger the more you attack it.  Chop off one head and 2 grow in its place.  That is the essence of Antifragility; what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

One part I did not like was his constant assault on academics and what he calls the Soviet-Harvard fragilistas.  I realize that these folks have created massive damage to our society.  It seems that Nassim has an axe to grind with them.  Nassim’s argument is powerful enough to stand on it’s own without this distraction.

This book is very accessible to most readers, the technical stuff is put into an appendix for the most part.  You will see the modern world very differently if you read this book.