The one-sentence summary
Only by accepting what we don’t know can we see the world as it really is.
WHAT THE BOOK SAYS
- This is a short book containing a series of philosophical and practical aphorisms – one-sentence observations about a range of subjects.
- The title is taken from a Greek myth in which Procrustes abducted his ‘guests’ and then fitted them to a bed – cutting their legs off if they were too tall and stretching them if too short.
- The author uses this as a broad theme to point out that we should stop squeezing life into commoditised ideas, categories and pre-packaged narratives, and instead embrace the unknown and the fact that there are limits to our knowledge.
- He covers a wide range of topics, including ontology (the nature of being), chance, success, happiness, ethics, economic life, religion, sucker problems, and his old favourite randomness.
- He introduces the idea of robustness and fragility, which he reviews in detail in his book Antifragile.
- The Ludic Fallacy is trying to make life resemble games by applying crisp rules; Domain Dependency is acting one way in a certain environment and differently in another. Neither work.
WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT IT
- If you are looking for a pithy remark that sums up the human contradiction, this is the place to look. His thoughts are described as wry, hilarious, entertaining, and maddeningly wise at the same time.
- Classics include:
- To bankrupt a fool, give him information
- The test of originality for an idea is not the absence of one single predecessor but the presence of multiple but incompatible ones.
- Modernity’s double punishment is to make us both age prematurely and live longer.
- When someone starts a sentence with “simply,” you should expect to hear something very complicated.
- It takes a lot of intellect and confidence to accept that what makes sense doesn’t really make sense.
- Conscious ignorance, if you can practice it, expands your world; it can make things infinite.
- The weak shows his strength and hides his weaknesses; the magnificent exhibits his weaknesses like ornaments.
- There are around 500 more like this.
WHAT YOU HAVE TO WATCH
- You might want a dictionary to hand – the author likes obscure words.