I try to remember here how I liked the books I read (and what books I read in the first place :-))
These books are only those that I really read to a big extent. So I leave out all the books I read half, but then had something better to do or technical books where I looked something up and then went on. And also I neglect Comics :-(
For the books I read in German, I will try to provide the english title.
I try to remember here how I liked the books I read (and what books I read in the first place :-))
Kurzgeschichten, vielleicht teilweise wahr, aus dem Repertoire eines Strafverteidigers. Klar erzählt, immer nah am Menschen für Menschen (Täter), mit Einwürfen über das deutsche Rechtssystem über das man immer ein bisschen mehr wissen kann. Bei Weitem kein Drei-Groschen Heft, aber eine gute Lektüre wenn der Geist mal Erholung braucht.
Fast-paced drug dealing drama, placed in Southern California. A quick read, also due to the unique style of narration, much like a movie script, with much weight on dialogue and short descriptions of actions. Characters are interestingly described (on the "good" as well as the "bad" side), but remain a bit shallow. Refreshing, however.
This book is about things that gain from uncertainty or volatility. For instance, a candle is extinguished by a random wind blow, but a fire might just thrive from it. The candle light is fragile. Taleb says that a fire is not just robust against the volatile wind - it does not stay the same, but becomes better. So he proposes the term "antifragile" for such things.
Another example of his: being an employee at a big corporation for decades is fragile, being a taxi driver is antifragile. The employee may have stable income, but he gets complacent and an unforseeable "Black Swan" event (the book that made Taleb famous) could get him fired. The taxi driver constantly needs to reevaluate himself and adapt. He is constantly antifragile, the (average) employee is constantly fragile.
One more: Scientists or corporate executives are fragile with respect to reputation. A majority of people being dismissive could be fatal for their career. Artists and writers on the other hand thrive on criticism, all they need is a few followers as well.
In essence: Big successes in the world can, according to Taleb, be explained by the antifragility in which the actors were (be it that they were by accident or not). A lot of it comes down to not having complex models and strategies in this complex world. We are better at doing than thinking, if doing is done right: A mix of small-error-tolerating tinkering and experience-based heuristics, instead of complex theories which need to be correct about what happens when. The choice to be a free, independent actor instead of joining large complex structures. Keeping options open to yourself that will do less harm than good in the long run, whatever happens.
This is an especially strong message in a civilisation that is building more and more complex structures. Taleb is coming from the financial world (he was a quantitative trader), so he's seen all the needless and hurtful complexities that make up our economies.
Two telling quotes:
"In a complex domain, only time - a long time - is evidence." (p. 337)
"The best way to verify that you are alive is by checking if you like variations." (p. 423)
In the course of the book, Taleb explores the idea in various ways, among them:
1. A more mathematical (but readable for everyone) look at the issue. He introduces convex and concave payoffs to events. In essence: We might not have a good idea of the event x's distribution, but to be prepared for the payoff f(x), we can at least look at the function f.
2. Less is more. Substracting things from models and strategies is more often than not enriching. He uses medicine as an extended example.
3. Ethics of being antifragile. Many people can be antifragile to the cost of others who have to be fragile. Most currently, and in Talebs, experience, bankers are still anti-fragile as they're being bailed out by fragile tax payers. He argues that only of you have put value into y (time or work of building it, or money betting on it) you can be taken serious in your opinion about y - this is what he calls "having skin in the game".
Now, how is this book written? It is a wild ride of opinions, personal and biographic stories (all in favour of the author), many little tidbits and example from classic literature, repitions and also dialogues between more or less made-up characters. Honestly, I was close to giving up on it because the author thinks he is insightful and helpful but really isn't. It is mostly the overly creative chapter names and little chapter summaries that throw the reader out of the flow and make him forget where he is.
That's what you get if you refuse to accept an editor - a luxury Taleb can afford after his two best-selling books beforehand. However, this previous success (and experiences in the media world after that) also allowed him to be refreshingly harsh. Several professions, such as my current one (research), are not treated well and even specific persons are put in the spotlight. I was delighted that Taleb shares my refusal to like Thomas ("the world is flat") Friedman and Ray ("the singularity is near") Kurzweil for the simplistic visions they have about our complex world. He also picked Nobel price winner Joseph Stiglitz as his preferred target of critique, for being seriously wrong about the crisis, during the crisis, and having cherry-picked his past statements afterwards (this cherry-picking is currently too easy for all experts who have no skin in the game, I wonder if there is a future technology to make cherry-picking harder, given that lots of statements are actually published, as this is how economic commentators like Stiglitz or, more general, scientists, operate).
Several reviews have focused on Taleb's self-centeredness, favourably or not. I agree to a lot of what they have to say. However, the metaphor he proposes seems useful and, sometimes, the messenger is important:
1. Taleb rode around in the complex world (of finance) for decades so if he argues in favour of substracting complexities from the world, he is more believable than someone who comes from the outside.
2. He actually bet on the system failing (for years losing money) and in the end won big. It's debatable if that is ethically what you want your messenger to have done, but he can say that he not only said something was going to happen (many people did actually) but he had "skin in the game". Again, this is helping believability in most circles, especially inside the complex modern ones.
At their core, the models of the human economy have always been sketches of the real thing, at best. And economic practice (i.e. government policy) has always even further simplified these sketches when reasoning about what to do.
So why the heck shouldn't someone make a comic to explain the history of economics?
What this book delivers is highly enjoyable education. It has many gaps, but who would expect no emissions has no respect for the multi-dimensionality of the topic. Everyone always cuts it their own way, so let's leave Goodwin to his cuts. He tells a good story which must have been hard to carve out, with very nice illustrations from Dan Burr. I think the book does work as an introduction as well as a reference to come back to. Though it proceeds chronologically, I think the book is in essence two parts:
- An overview over economic thought and models ca. 1600 - 1850 (which leaves out a couple thousand years from the history of economics, actually)
- A brief US-centric history of market development and governmental tinkering with markets (and the corruption in between) ca. 1850 - 2012 (the viewpoint is always economic, but that actually serves as a pretty good viewpoint for actual history of mankind, just ask Marx, who gets around two pages)
The second part is much bigger than the first. Goodwin also has a strong anti-cooperation, anti-corruption, (U.S.) liberal view on recent history, but at least he is up-front about it.
A sidenote: It was interesting to get a new view on how the U.S. and U.S.S.R. economies are/were not only both "mixed economies" (not purely capitalist/communist), but the concentration of economic power, a very important dimension, was actually very comparable. I didn't know that it was (republican) president Eisenhower who coined the term military-industrial complex. It is amazing to think it still runs roughly like that 60 years later - just look at the current revelations how the NSA and its predecessors have always been using/abusing/creating corporations to connect economic goals to goverment goals which are heavily driven by war-speak.
Den Untertitel des Buches finde ich eigentlich passender: "52 Denkfehler, die Sie besser anderen überlassen". Denn klares Denken ist doch ein bisschen höher gegriffen - dieses Buch erklärt lediglich auf unterhaltsame Weise Fehler, die dem menschlichen Gehirn immer wieder passieren, wenn es Einschätzungen über eine gegebene Situation macht.
- Warum wir unser eigenes Wissen überschätzen und das anderer unterschätzen
- Warum etwas nicht richtiger wird, wenn Millionen anderer es für richtig halten
- Warum wir Theorien nachhängen, selbst wenn sie nachweislich falsch sind
- Warum wir die Vergangenheit ignorieren sollten
Dieses Buch ist die Kollektion von 52 wöchentlichen Beiträgen, die Rolf Dobelli 2010/2011 in der FAZ veröffentlicht hat. Die Denkfehler hat er selbst zusammengetragen, sagt uns aber auch den gebräuchlichen (meist englischen) Namen, z.B. "The Survivorship Bias", "The Conjunction Fallacy" oder "Die Kontrollillusion". Erheblich beeinflusst war Dobelli dabei aus dem Feld der "Heuristics-and-Bias" Literatur, wie sie derzeit von ehemaligen Investmanagern wie Nassim Nicholas Taleb ins Rampenlicht getragen werden. Gut, daß er jedes Kapitel auch mit relevanten Studien hinterlegt, die in der Psychologie oder Cognitive Science Forschung Denkfehler bestätigen. Vieles war mir natürlich dann auch nicht neu, aber eine mit einem passenden Beispiel unterlegte knackige Erklärung hat doch seinen Sinn.
Abschliessend sagt Dobelli, man könne eben nicht bei jeder Entscheidung "klar" denken, dafür ist das zu anstrengend. Unsere Intuition ist effizient. Wenn die Entscheidung aber sehr wichtig ist, sollte man sich eben kurz Zeit nehmen und die möglichen Denkfehler durchgehen.
Die Einschränkung finde ich wichtig, weil ich mich beim Lesen manchmal unwohl fühlte, da der Evolutionärpsychologie und dem Diktat des rationalen Denkens doch viel das wort geredet wird. Aber - mit Vorsicht genossen - ist dieses Büchlein einigermaßen lehrreich, recht unterhaltsam und könnte sogar als Nachschlagewerk im Bücherschrank von Nutzen sein.