Book review: Bed of Procrustes

In usual Taleb form, it’s a new classic. Taleb’s other three books in his “Incerto” series talk about his theories, whereas this book talks about the practical application of them to life. If you’re easily offended, don’t read it.

The book is named after an ancient Greek fable of an innkeeper named Procrustes. According to the tale, Procrustes had a bed for guests, who he would cut off their legs if they were too long for the bed, and he would stretch them out if they were too short. The point of the fable is to warn people against intellectual rigidity or a “one size fits all” mentality.

Taleb presents his thoughts in the form of aphorisms, almost like proverbs. Some of the ones that I found memorable:

“The opposite of success isn’t failure; it is name-dropping.”

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”

“I wonder if anyone ever measured the time it takes, at a party, before a mildly successful stranger who went to Harvard makes others aware of it.”

“There are two types of people: those who try to win and those who try to win arguments. They are never the same.”

He’s definitely not afraid of calling people out and saying what he really thinks. That’s a good way to live.

It is clear that Taleb is a student of the classics, particularly the stoics. Taleb’s writing presents a modern-day stoicism, if you will.

Taleb easily could have called this book “20 Cool Steps to Live the Good Life”, and maybe put some references to “Web 2.0”, the “new normal”, “thinking outside the box”, or whatever completely overused buzzwords that you prefer. Part of me thinks he deliberately gave it a rather obscure name as a shibboleth of sorts. Meaning, if you really, really, want to go buy the new, pretty self-help or business book in the rack at the supermarket, with cute pictures on the front written by some moderately successful dude who is coaching even less successful people—by all means, have at it. It’s like how Tai Lopez in his mentorship argues that people need to get their information on a subject from the best in the field first, which is why for business he starts with Sam Walton and Peter Drucker, rather than the mass-marketed tripe.

Bed of Procrustes is a short read, but definitely worth checking out. It’s a fun read, and like Taleb’s other works, it forces you to think.

Keep hustling,

Alex Cook

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