Posted January 14th, 2011
"Slow down," Nassim tells me as we walk towards the Luxembourg gardens from Odeon in Paris this afternoon, "You're walking too fast."
The former trader-turned-author had said the same words to me the first time we walked and talked together across Ile de la Cite a few days before the mathematician, Benoit Mandelbrot, to whom his best-selling book, The Black Swan is dedicated, passed away. (Disclaimer: Taleb's book has absolutely nothing to do with the recent Aronofsky ballet film, though Taleb said that absurdly the film's release had seemed to increase book sales.)
Taleb has recently taken a step back, away from the media spotlight these past few months, following an intense period of media appearances as a result of the financial crash of 2008, where it was proclaimed that his 2007 Black Swan book had foreseen the disaster to come. He prefers now to edit books of citations, read the classics, lunch with philosophy professors, teach and recharge. One of his latest works, The Bed of Procrustes, is not officially about finance at all, but full of "philosophical and practical aphorisms." On occasion, as he did in Paris, he speaks to groups of bankers, economists, and the odd journalist. As we continued at a snail's pace to make our way from Luxembourg towards the Sorbonne, where he offered me a dictionary of Latin and Greek quotes from a famous philosophical bookstore (in France The Black Swan sells in the Philosophy section, not filed under Economics), he explained why he had turned from markets to penning aphorisms such as:
"The person you are most afraid to contradict is yourself."
"The best revenge on a liar is to convince him that you believe what he said." (This is one of my favorites.)
"Procrastination is the soul rebelling against entrapment."
And perhaps the most important:
"What I learned on my own I still remember."
Taleb has been criticized, but he tells it as he sees it, whether or not everyone agrees. He is taken seriously by everyone from the UK's David Cameron to politician Ralph Nader. Not to mention NYU Polytechnic Institute, which granted him Distinguished Professor status. Yet he falls somewhere between academic and finance guy, his approach to both is philosophical.