Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life
By Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Published by Allen Lane, £20
(Buy at Amazon)
It’s safe to stay that Nassim Nicholas Taleb has cornered the market in books about risk. His last four books – including The Black Swan, which rather niftily anticipated the financial crisis – have all examined aspects of the topic. His latest “advances his long-held belief that people should only be heeded or trusted if they have a personal stake in the outcome”, says John Gapper in the Financial Times. Conversely, the advice of everyone else “should be ignored, or treated with a great deal of scepticism, because they lack both credibility and integrity”.
“The argument of the new book is… attractive”, admits The Guardian’s Zoe Williams, and the author’s “fearlessness, self-belief and immodesty adds up to charisma on the page”. That said, “Taleb is the festival messiah you’d follow into a river until the drugs wore off”.
The argument is too broad – Taleb’s animus against bureaucrats, for example, “is hard to sustain; if you accept that systems are complex, then subsidiarity – devolving decisions down to the lowest civic level at which they can be made, where everyone’s skin is involved – can only be a partial solution”.
A weakness with this book – unlike his others – is that “it is short on practicality”, agrees Matthew Syed in The Times. “Does Taleb really think that prime ministers and presidents should fight alongside the troops they send into battle?” Yet overall this is a powerfully argued book, in which “Taleb makes the moral case for acting rather than merely talking”. On that front, he certainly has good suggestions for dealing with those who offer advice on investing: “Don’t tell me what you think. Just tell me what is in your portfolio”.