This may be the only business book you read that covers Greek philosophy, ancient myths, modern parables featuring Fat Tony and Nero (characters from Taleb’s earlier books) and some personal stories, both from the author’s early life in Lebanon and from his more recent experience as a hate figure for classical economists. It’s a demanding and exhilarating read – skim-read half a page and you could jump two thousand years – but it deserves to be read properly. Taleb is funny and irreverent as well as original and hellishly smart. He says this book is the culmination of the thinking he’s been working through in Fooled by Randomness and then Black Swan. The big idea in here is that systems that build strength through responding to stress are stronger than those which simply resist stress – these latter types may be robust up to a point, but then fail big. Banking, the human body, entrepreneurs and corporate journeymen all feature in bringing this idea to life. I’ve taken my investment strategy from this book: limit your downside, create exposure to large potential upside even if it seems unlikely (something he calls creating optionality). This is the natural evolution of his Black Swan theory. For a business, it translates into a totally different approach to risk assessment: forget about prediction and probability; instead identify and mitigate your areas of vulnerability, based on their potential impact. Strong stuff that may change how you see business and government – and you will also laugh out loud. What a joy.

Books | July 2013