Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Bed of Procrustes

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Allen Lane - Hardcover - $30

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (left) spends most of his time as a flâneur, meditating in cafés across the planet. A former trader, he is currently Distinguished
Professor at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute. His books Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan have been published in
thirty-one languages.

Of this his latest book Janet Maslin reviewing in the New York Times said: 

"In his happily provocative new book of aphorisms, the fiscal prophet and self-appointed flâneur Nassim Nicholas Taleb aims particular scorn at anyone who thinks aphorisms require explanation. And he differentiates the aphorism from the equally short-form sound bite by noting that the aphorism enhances knowledge while the sound bite shrinks it.
That said, it is extremely foolhardy to try to paraphrase any of Mr. Taleb’s pronouncements. This is a man who suffers fools impatiently, and his intellect makes his hauteur largely justified. Watch any video clip in which he is being interviewed — or, worse, has to keep quiet while someone else tries and fails to understand whatever he has just said — if you need convincing.

Even his book’s title, “The Bed of Procrustes,” is intentionally harsh. As he reminds readers in a brief introduction, the Procrustes of Greek mythology was the cruel and ill-advised fool who stretched or shortened people to make them fit his inflexible bed. Mr. Taleb’s new book addresses the latter-day ways in which “we humans, facing limits of knowledge, and things we do not observe, the unseen and the unknown, resolve the tension by squeezing life and the world into crisp commoditized ideas, reductive categories, specific vocabularies, and prepackaged narratives, which, on the occasion, has explosive consequences.”

And from The Bookman:
All in all though a fun book for the linguists and etymologists among us.
I liked these two:

Writing is the art of repeating oneself without anyone noticing.

What they call philosophy I call literature; what they call literature I call journalism; what they call journalism I call gossip; and what they call gossip I call (generously) voyeurism.

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