“The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms” by Nassin Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Taleb Intelligenthq

“The Bed of Procrustes” is an excellent book written by Nassim Taleb. That doesn´t mean that most of the readers would like the book. However, I think you should take the risk of buying and reading the book. Why? The book is well-written and has a lot of thought provoking “food” for our mind.

Dear reader, you probably know the author or, at least, some of his books. Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a Lebanese-American writer and scholar. He worked before as a hedge fund manager for more then two decades. Now, his work focuses on questions around randomness and uncertainty and he is author of well-known non-fiction books like the “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” and “Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder”. His books were translate in more then 30 languages. Taleb is known to be thinker with sharp words and complex character, as can be accessed in the following video.

One of Taleb´s most influential book is “Black Swan”. “The Black Swan” is an opus magnum, a lengthy work that explores in depth one single idea: how the extreme impact of certain kinds of rare and unpredictable events trigger humans’ tendency to find simplistic explanations for these events retrospectively. The book is widely known all around the world .

“The Bed of Procrustes” on the other hand, is a relatively unknown book  with a few dozens of pages and approaching many subjects.The title refers to a violent stretcher from Greek mythology who abducted travelers and forced them to lie in a special bed.  In his own words the book “contrasts the classical values of courage, elegance, and erudition against the modern diseases of nerdiness, philistinism, and phoniness.” In his introductory essay, Taleb writes:

“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.”

I believe that “The Bed of Procrustes” will divide readers between the ones who will love it or hate it.  Personally  I am very fascinated with this book that certainly can provoke intense emotions on his readers. He uses sarcasm and can seem arrogant, but whether we like it or not his books are thought provoking, and well researched. They will stay in print for a long long time.

“The Bed of Procrustes” is one of his less well-known books. It is a tiny book of aphorisms (aphorisms are a short form of writing that holds deep meaning) about subjects around chance, human behavior and life in general. The aphorisms challenge and entertain the readers at the same time. A great part of the aphorisms are about many of the ideas expressed in his longer books like “The Black Swan”. However Taleb also writes about subjects like love, ethics an friendship. Many of the aphorisms attacked some of my preconceived notions and, probably, of most of the readers of the book. One can even have one surprise or two and perhaps will be offended as sometimes the aphorisms aren´t very nice for the reader. Let me give you one example of what you can expect in the book: “The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary”. Most of  the readers of this article probably have a monthly salary like me. In a way, I think the  author is right. The monthly salary is a “carrot”. We trade our freedom, and search for ourselves and a desire to live with creativity, for security, which our recent times have already shown us that isn´t as “safe” as we would normally think so. Even if the trade-off is what we think, the phrase of  Nassim Nicholas Taleb makes us think about our options.

He says (from my point of view) a lot of things that we tend to forget like “I find it inconsistent (and corrupt) to dislike big government while favoring big business – but (alas) not the the reverse”. Many of the aphorisms are inconvenient to a lot of groups.  One of his favorite targets are university professors (I am one of them 🙂 )  in particular, and academia, in general. Please, appreciate one of his “pearls”:

“Academia is to knowledge what prostitution is to love; close enough on the surface but, to the non-sucker, not exactly the same thing”.

Overall, it is an excellent  book that you can come back to many times. I believe that the reader can find different layers of interest with each new reading. “The Bed of Procrustes” can be seen as a very good and old red wine that we can enjoy slowly. I think it is worth the risk of reading it. Even though not all people like really good old wine,  I don´t think there is anything wrong about it for the rest of us – more red wine for the rest of us. 🙂