December 10, 2010 10:52 pm

The Bed of Procrustes

The Bed of Procrustes, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Allen Lane RRP£14.99, 128 pages

 

Taleb is the author of two hugely successful books, The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness – both written in rather dense prose. The Bed of Procrustes suffers from no such problem; it is a neat little book of aphorisms.

The book’s title is taken from the Greek myth in which Procrustes fitted his guests to a bed – cutting to size those too tall and stretching those too short. Taleb’s crystalline nuggets of thought stand alone like esoteric poems, but together produce a sort of picture in reverse – the surrounding space shaded in to reveal the central subject: human knowledge and its limitations.

Work is shown to be the death of creativity, freedom and passion; technology is stultifying even while it promises efficiency; routine degrades and enslaves. But key to Taleb’s argument is the battle between rational and empirical thought in which we risk “amputating the unknown” to squeeze all phenomena into reductive categories. A teasing, thought-provoking book.

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