Something Really New for a Change: A Review of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile

“And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field”—Genesis 2:20 (King James Version)

Theophanes the Cretan, “Adam Names the Beasts of the Field,” Monastery of Saint Nicholas (Metéora, Greece)

Academic culture, as presently constituted, seems to reward scholars who do one of two things: (1) repackage a commonplace with some sort of fancy-sounding language (e.g., saying “H2O” instead of “water”); or, (2) repackage an existing concept, like, say, hegemony, give it a new name, and then confidently declare that it’s a “BRAND NEW” idea that explains just about everything. Most of what passes for fresh new scholarship is in fact one of these two sleights of hand. Perhaps that’s why the central concept of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s new book—“antifragility”—is so initially off-putting. Because Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder (2012) is the exception that proves this rule.

41y+-2A1XZL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Taleb’s central idea actually is something new. It’s not a repackaging of some old thing, nor is it an abstruse articulation of a commonplace. All to the contrary. Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s concept of antifragility actually gives name to a “beast of the field” that didn’t have a name, something which, when you think about it, clearly exists, around us, in us, between us, everywhere! Once you grasp the concept of antifragility—truly grasp it—it does precisely what any good concept ought to do: it makes clear things that were previously unclear; it gives you the language you need to talk about certain things, things which we really need to talk about if we’re going to make sense of this divine comedy around us, which we like to call the world.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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