Tandon in the News

You Are All Soft! Embrace Chaos!


A reader could easily run out of adjectives to describe Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s new book “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.” The first ones that come to mind are: maddening, bold, repetitious, judgmental, intemperate, erudite, reductive, shrewd, self-indulgent, self-congratulatory, provocative, pompous, penetrating, perspicacious and pretentious.

“Antifragile” is a kind of sequel or logical follow-on to Mr. Taleb’s best-selling 2007 book “The Black Swan” and his earlier book “Fooled by Randomness.” In those and other writings he has argued that “Black Swans” — large, improbable and highly consequential events like World War I or the rise of the Internet — are not predictable. Despite human beings’ taste for rational patterns of cause and effect, and their eagerness to impose narratives on the world, he observed, it’s impossible to calculate the risks of Black Swan events or predict their occurrence.

Mr. Taleb — who has worked as a derivatives trader and quantitative analyst, and who holds the title of distinguished professor of risk engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University — writes with great certainty and vigor. At his best he serves up provocative theories that encourage us to look at the world anew. He reminds us of the limits of Enlightenment reason, goads us into thinking about why small might be less fragile than big (a rule, he implies, that applies to animals and corporations alike) and gives us a renewed appreciation of practical knowledge (of the sort possessed by engineers and entrepreneurs) as opposed to the sort of academic knowledge acquired in school.

Read more