David Runciman reviews Nassim Nicholas Talib's new book in The Guardian:
The core idea behind this book is simple and quite enticing. Nassim Nicholas Taleb divides the world and all that's in it (people, things, institutions, ways of life) into three categories: the fragile, the robust and the antifragile. You are fragile if you avoid disorder and disruption for fear of the mess they might make of your life: you think you are keeping safe, but really you are making yourself vulnerable to the shock that will tear everything apart. You are robust if you can stand up to shocks without flinching and without changing who you are. But you are antifragile if shocks and disruptions make you stronger and more creative, better able to adapt to each new challenge you face. Taleb thinks we should all try to be antifragile.
If the idea is nice and neat, however, the book that houses it is just the opposite. It is a big, baggy, sprawling mess. Taleb seems to have decided not just to explain his idea but also to try to exemplify it. One of his bugbears is the fragility of most of what passes for “knowledge” – especially the kind produced by academics – which he thinks is so hung up on order and completeness that it falls apart at the first breath of disruption. So he has gone for deliberate disorder: Antifragile jumps around from aphorism to anecdote to technical analysis, interspersed with a certain amount of hectoring encouragement to the reader to keep up. The aim, apparently, is to show how much more interesting an argument can be if it resists being pinned down.
There are two problems with this.