TIME Books

Michigan Bookstore Offers ‘Refunds and Apologies’ for Go Set a Watchman

Harper Lee's "new" novel "Go Set a Watchman".
Portland Press Herald/Getty Images Harper Lee's "new" novel "Go Set a Watchman".

"This is pure exploitation of both literary fans and a beloved American classic"

A Michigan bookstore is offering “refunds and apologies” for Go Set a Watchman after calling it a “nice summer novel.”

“We suggest you view this work as an academic insight rather than as a nice summer novel,” the bookstore, Brilliant Books, said in an online statement.

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s sequel to her only other work, To Kill a Mockingbird, has been piled with criticism after readers found the book did not match the quality of its predecessor. Negative reviews haven’t stopped the book from selling out, though; within a week of release, Watchman had sold more than a million copies.

Brilliant Books compared Lee’s new book to James Joyce’s Stephen Hero, a book that was never pitched as a mainstream novel.

Hero was initially rejected, and Joyce reworked it into the classic Portrait,” the store explained in its statement. “Hero was eventually released as an academic piece for scholars and fans—not as a new ‘Joyce novel.’ We would have been delighted to see Go Set A Watchman receive a similar fate.”

The bookstore’s owner, Peter Makin, only recently decided to offer refunds after speaking to a “loyal” customer who felt deceived and only recently found out about the controversial history of the book, according to The Guardian.

“It is disappointing and frankly shameful to see our noble industry parade and celebrate this as ‘Harper Lee’s New Novel,'” Brilliant Books said. “This is pure exploitation of both literary fans and a beloved American classic (which we hope has not been irrevocably tainted).”

TIME natural disaster

Al Roker: The Tragic History of Early Weather Forecasting

Galveston boats wrecked in the hurricane of 1900
AP Hand-colored halftone reproduction of a photograph of oyster boats piled up at a Galveston wharf after the hurricane of 1900

This exclusive excerpt from Al Roker's upcoming book about the Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900 explains how the science of weather forecasting came to be

Meteorology hasn’t always been as exact a science as it is today—as Al Roker well knows. His upcoming book, The Storm of the Century, is a narrative account of the hurricane that devastated Galveston, Tex., in September of 1900, essentially destroying a city in one single day. One of the many figures who populates the story of unprecedented disaster is Isaac Cline, the chief meteorologist for Galveston. The turn of the century was an exciting time to be in meteorology: it seemed that, as Roker writes, “nature’s terrors would succumb to the superior intelligence of the human race.” Galveston proved that theory wrong, even though Cline was well versed in the most advanced weather science of his day, which Roker explains in the exclusive excerpt below:

While the science of forecasting was becoming, in Cline’s day, a modern and objective one, much of the technology on which it depended was ancient.

Of the big three, the anemometer used the oldest technology. Four fine, metal, hemispherical cups, their bowls set vertically against the wind, caught air flow. Because each cup was fixed to one of the four posts of a thin, square metal cross, lying horizontally, and because the cross’s crux was fixed to a vertical pole, when wind pushed the cups, they made the whole cross rotate. It made revolutions around the pole.

In Cline’s day, the pole was connected to a sensor with a dial read-out display. The number of revolutions the cross made per minute—clocked by the sensor, transferred by the turnings of the wheels, and displayed on the dial—indicated a proportion of the wind’s speed in miles per hour.

Rotating cups, wheels, and a dial: the anemometer was fully mechanical, with no reliance on electricity. And while other competing anemometer designs existed, involving liquids and tubes, the four-cup design became standard in American meteorology in the nineteenth century, remaining remarkably stable.

In 1846, an Irish meteorologist named John Thomas Romney Robinson upgraded the technology. But before that, the biggest development in clocking wind speeds had been made in 1485—by Leonardo da Vinci. The anemometer was already a durable meteorology classic when Isaac Cline began studying.

The second member of the forecasting big three, which Isaac Cline studied with such interest under the Signal Corps, was the hygrometer, which measures relative humidity. Like the anemometer, it’s been around ever since a not-very-accurate means of measuring relative humidity was built by—once again—Leonardo da Vinci.

By Cline’s day, a basic hygrometer measured the degree of moisture in the air by using two glass bulbs, each at one end of a glass tube. The tube passed through the top of a wooden post and bent downward on both sides of the post, farther down one side than the other. Thus one of the bulbs was lower than the other. In that lower bulb sat a thermometer, dipped in ether, a gas that had condensed in the bulb into a liquid.

The other, higher bulb contained ether too, but here the gas remained in its vapor form. That bulb was covered in a light fabric.

When condensed ether was poured over the fabric covering the higher bulb, the bulb cooled, and the vaporized ether within condensed, lowering vapor pressure in the bulb. That lowering of pressure caused the liquid ether in the lower bulb to begin evaporating into the space provided. So the lower bulb’s temperature fell as well.

Moisture—known as a “dew”—therefore formed on the outside of the lower bulb. As it did, the temperature indicated by the thermometer in that bulb was read and noted. That reading is called the dew-point temperature. Simply comparing the dew-point temperature to the air temperature outside the bulbs—as measured by a common weather thermometer, conveniently mounted on the hygrometer’s wooden post—gives the relative humidity. It’s a ratio of dew-point temperature to air temperature. The closer dew-point temperature gets to air temperature, the higher the relative humidity.

As a student of humidity, Isaac Cline read tables (sometimes built into the hygrometer for quick reference) showing the exact humidity ratios. But experienced forecasters know the rough ratios by heart.

We concern ourselves with humidity mainly on hot days. When there’s lots of moisture in the air, it can’t accept much more moisture, and that means warmth has a harder time leaving our bodies via perspiration. With a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit and a dew point of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll get a relative humidity of nearly 86 percent—quite uncomfortable. When air temperature and dew point are identical, humidity is said to be 100 percent. We really don’t like that.

There were other kinds of hygrometers as well, developed during Isaac Cline’s early career as a meteorologist. One, called a psychrometer, compared a wet thermometer bulb, cooled by evaporation, with a dry thermometer bulb.

And in 1892, a German scientist—he had the unfortunate name of Richard Assmann—built what was known as an aspiration psychrometer for even more minute accuracy. It used two matched thermometers, protected from radiation interference by a thermal shield, and a drying fan driven by a motor. By 1900, when Isaac Cline was working in the weather station in the Levy Building in Galveston, hygrometer science was at its apex.

But perhaps the most important element in weather forecasting is the barometer.

The role of barometric pressure—air pressure—is counterintuitive. We can directly feel the phenomena measured by anemometers and hygrometers—wind speeds and relative humidity: wind knocks us around and humidity makes us sticky. But the sensations caused by air pressure work differently from the way we might expect.

That difference has to do with the very nature of air. Usually we don’t think much about air. While we know it gives us oxygen, breathing is largely unconscious. We notice air when it’s very still or very windy. And we notice air when it stinks.

Otherwise we generally ignore the air. We imagine it as nothing but a weightless emptiness.

But air does have weight. That weight exerts pressure on the Earth’s surface, as well as on everything on the Earth: human skin and inanimate objects. We refer to the pressure of that weight as “atmospheric pressure,” and we measure it with a barometer.

When more and bigger molecules gather, air’s weight increases, and the atmosphere bears down snugly on all surfaces. We call that effect, not surprisingly, “high pressure.” The strange thing, though, is that high pressure—all that heavy weight of air—makes us feel freer, more energetic. It makes the air feel not heavier but lighter.

That’s because where pressure is high, relative humidity is suppressed. Warmth can’t lift as easily from the surface of any object—including from the Earth’s surface. Warm air currents are held at bay, moisture is blocked, winds remain stable. Rain, lightning, and thunder are discouraged. High pressure usually means nice weather.

By the same token, when we complain that the air feels heavy—on those days of sluggishness, when we feel as if we’re struggling through a swamp—heaviness is not really what we’re feeling. Just the opposite. On those days, the air has less weight, lower pressure.

The result, usually, is just some unpleasantness. That’s because lighter and fewer molecules in the atmosphere cause atmospheric “lifting.” Heat and moisture lift upward from all surfaces. The humidity gets bad.

But when barometric pressure falls low enough, winds may be expected to rise, clouds form, and rain, thunder, and lightning follow. With very low air pressure, things aren’t just unpleasant. They’re dangerous, sometimes deadly.

Barometers for measuring pressure had been part of experimentation in natural science since the 1640s, well before modern weather forecasting. For a long time, it just seemed interesting, and possibly useful, to know that atmospheric pressure exists at all. Or to see that it can do work—like pushing mercury upward in a column.

But soon people began to apply the science. They used pressure readings not only to note the existing weather but to predict future changes in weather. One scientist graduated the scale so the pressure could be measured in exact increments. Another realized that instead of pushing mercury upward, the scale could be turned into a circle to form a dial; that enabled far subtler readings.

Yet another change came with the portable barometer. Using no liquid, and therefore easier to transport on ships, the portable barometer took the form of a small vacuum-sealed metal box, made of beryllium and copper. Atmospheric pressure made the box expand and contract, thus moving a needle on its face. A barometer like that could be carried in a pocket by a ship’s captain. He could watch the pressure fall and know that he was sailing into a storm.

Just before Isaac Cline began studying, the widely traveled Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy, of the British Royal Navy, formalized a new system for detailed weather prediction based on barometric readings. FitzRoy had served as captain on HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin’s exploration ship, and also as governor of New Zealand. His idea was to go beyond just noting existing and future weather conditions. He found ways of communicating conditions from ship to ship. That aided safety at sea.

By the mid-nineteenth century, a large barometer of FitzRoy’s design was set up on big stone housings at every British port. Captains and crews could see what they were about to get into. In 1859, a storm at sea caused so many deaths that FitzRoy began working up a system of charts that would allow for what he called, for the first time anywhere, “forecasting the weather.”

HarperCollins

The Storm of the Century by Al Roker will be available on Aug. 11, 2015.

Read next: Panama Canal to Place Limits on Shipping Due to El Niño Drought

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TIME Books

Listen to Matthew McConaughey Read a Short Story

Audible

Kevin Morris's collection is getting the celebrity treatment

White Man’s Problems, a short-story collection by Kevin Morris, published last year to critical acclaim. In the nine stories, Morris, an entertainment lawyer by trade, offers up shrewd, bitingly funny commentary on his own privileged class.

On Aug. 11, White Man’s Problems makes its audiobook debut with a star-studded cast of readers, including Matthew McConaughey, Minnie Driver, Josh Holloway, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Listen to McConaughey read the first half of “Summer Farmer,” the first story in Morris’s collection, in an exclusive clip for TIME.

TIME Television

Aidan Turner Does Not Care That People Are Writing About His Abs on Poldark

PoldarkSundays, June 21 - August 2, 2015 on MASTERPIECE on PBSRoss Poldark rides again in a swashbuckling newÊadaptation of the hit series that helped launch MASTERPIECE in theÊ1970s. AidanÊTurner (The Hobbit) stars as Captain Poldark, a redcoat who returns toÊCornwall after the AmericanÊRevolution and finds that his fighting days are farÊfrom over. Robin Ellis, who played Poldark in the 1970s PBS adaptation,Êappears inÊthe role of Reverend Halse. Eleanor Tomlinson (MASTERPIECE ÒDeath Comes to PemberleyÓ) plays the spunky Cornish minerÕsÊdaughter takenÊin by the gallant captain.ÊShown: Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark(C) Robert Viglasky/Mammoth Screen for MASTERPIECEThis image may be used only in the direct promotion of MASTERPIECE. No other rights are granted. All rights are reserved. Editorial use only.
MASTERPIECE on PBS Aidan Turner stars as Captain Poldark, a redcoat who returns to Cornwall after the American Revolution and finds that his fighting days are far from over.

The actor talks about the cult-favorite costume drama

Masterpiece fans have fallen in love with a new costume drama, Poldark, an adaptation of the Winston Graham novels (published between 1945 and 2002) about the Redcoat who returns to England after the American Revolutionary War to rebuild his life in Cornwall. Aidan Turner, who was previously best known for playing Kili in the Hobbit movies, has won a slew of new admirers as the just and compassionate mine owner Ross Poldark. (He’s also spawned more than a few articles—and backlash articles—about his shirtless scenes.)

TIME caught up with the actor ahead of the U.S. season one finale on Sunday to talk about the series.

TIME: How did you come to join this project?

Turner: They sent a bunch of scripts, they sent the books, they sent the outline, and just asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. It sounded exciting, I hadn’t read the books before, so I didn’t know much about what Poldark was, [but] it seemed like it was worth taking a chance on.

What did you think of the books when you read them?

I really enjoyed them—they stand the test of time. There’s 12 of them in the series, and I don’t think we’d be doing the show if the books weren’t strong. It’s a testament to Winston’s writing.

What other TV shows do you like?

Peaky Blinders is a show I’m watching. That’s 1920s. I don’t really know why that show works, either—just very good writing, good characters, a good team.

A lot of news websites, some of them serious, have made a point of writing about your abs on the show. How do you feel about that?

I don’t read press at all, so I kind of avoid a lot of this. It doesn’t really bother me—it was part of the show when I was doing it, it seemed to make sense for the character, so that’s all I really cared about. And then it just kind of disappeared from my world a little bit and I didn’t really hear any more about it.

The season ends on a cliffhanger. How much do you know about the next season?

I know the plot and the outline. I haven’t read the scripts yet, [but] I know where the journey is going.

Do you expect people to read them to find out?

People prefer not to read these days. If it’s slightly easier to wait three months or six months to see a show, people might do that as opposed to reading the book. It’s all there—you can Wikipedia very easily and just find out the plot synopsis. There’s no secret these days, everything is so accessible. But with a show like this, it doesn’t really matter. I’m shooting something at the moment and it’s an Agatha Christie murder mystery. That, in a way, it does matter that people don’t figure stuff out too quickly, because it ruins the show.

You have the movie The Secret Scripture coming up as well. What can you tell us about that project?

It was a lot of fun. Jim Sheridan directed it. Eric Bana was in it—Rooney Mara, Vanessa Redgrave. The script is very strong. I wanted to be part of it in any capacity that I could. Jim Sheridan is a hero of mine.

Why do audiences love costume dramas so much?

It’s hard to know. If [only] we could bottle that, something that keeps the finger on the pulse of a demographic that will want to watch. Some [costume dramas] work and some of them don’t seem to strike a chord. It’s impossible, I don’t know why people watch TV—I don’t know why they want to watch certain shows over other shows. But I’m just glad I’m part of something that’s successful.

TIME Books

Newly Discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald Story Published

F. Scott Fitzgerald
Time Life Pictures—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images American novelist Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (1896-1940).

The work had been turned down for publication when he was alive

A long-lost story by F. Scott Fitzgerald has been published 76 years after it was written.

“Temperature” is running in the current issue of The Strand Magazine and will appear online in three months, according to New York Magazine. Fitzgerald wrote the story just a year before his death at a particularly troubled time in his career; he had moved to Hollywood to write movies but was not a success there, and his fiction career had stalled. He wrote to his literary agent, Harold Ober, that he had taken the liberty of submitting the story for publication to the Saturday Evening Post himself, but was rejected. “Sending a story direct may be bad policy but one doesn’t consider that when one is living on money from a hocked Ford,” he wrote.

The Strand’s managing editor Andrew F. Gulli discovered “Temperature” earlier this year while looking through some of Fitzgerald’s papers at Princeton University, the AP reports. The 8,000-word story seems to be a thinly veiled portrait of Fitzgerald’s own situation at the time: its protagonist is Emmet Monsen, an alcoholic writer floundering in Los Angeles. “[A]s for that current dodge ‘No reference to any living character is intended’—no use even trying that,” Fitzgerald wrote.

Scholars of the Great Gatsby author knew of the story’s existence from his correspondence, but believed it to be lost. Another rediscovered Fitzgerald story, “Thank You for the Light,” was published by the New Yorker in 2012; the same magazine had turned it down for publication in 1936.

[AP]

Read next: TIME’s Original Review of The Great Gatsby

TIME Books

How David Foster Wallace Explained Why He Wrote Infinite Jest

David Foster Wallace in his hometown of Bloomington, Ill. in 1996.
Gary Hannabarger—Corbis David Foster Wallace in his hometown of Bloomington, Ill. in 1996.

"In a time of unprecedented comfort and pleasure and ease, there was a real sort of sadness about the country," Wallace told TIME

In the new film The End of the Tour, out Friday, Jason Segel plays the late author David Foster Wallace, in a look at Wallace’s life shortly after the release of his 1996 tome Infinite Jest. The movie takes place during the promotional tour for the book that firmly established Wallace as what TIME would soon call “Fiction’s New Fab Four.” (The other three were Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody and Donald Antrim.)

“Wallace made a connection with Infinite Jest, his 1,000-page opus about an early 21st century North America splintered by drugs, fanatics and a business ethic so venal that even the months of the year have product names,” TIME’s R.Z. Sheppard commented.

And, Sheppard had concluded in the previous year’s review of Infinite Jest, there was good reason for the attention Wallace was getting. The book was a “marathon send-up on humanism at the end of its tether” and full of “generous intelligence and authentic passion.” Looking back at it now, that send-up is particularly mordant. After all, the book takes place in 2014.

In a sidebar to the review, Wallace told TIME that the choice to set Jest in the then-future was crucial to the book’s reason for being. “In a time of unprecedented comfort and pleasure and ease, there was a real sort of sadness about the country,” Wallace is quoted saying. “I wanted to do something about it, about America and what our children might think of us. That’s one reason for setting the book 18 years ahead.”

Now, for better or worse, we know.

Read the original review of Infinite Jest, here in the TIME Vault: Mad Maximalism

TIME Books

Here are the Most Popular Harry Potter Book Quotes

On Amazon's Kindle e-readers

Correction appended, Aug. 18, 2015

Your original copies of the Harry Potter books may be tattered and underlined, pages earmarked to your favorite parts, the spines cracked from so much use. But since digital copies of the books have been available to buy on Pottermore, users are highlighting their favorite quotes on Kindle e-readers. Below are the top highlights from each of the seven books in the series. See if your favorite made the list.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

  • “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

  • “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

“You think the dead we have loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble?”

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

  • “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

  • “Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

  • “It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

  • “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love.”

Correction: The original version of this story misattributed quotations from the first two books. “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure” is from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” is from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

 

 

Read next: The 50 Most Important Things We’ve Learned From J.K. Rowling

TIME Books

A David Foster Wallace Reading List for The End of the Tour

David Foster Wallace
Steve Liss—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Author David Foster Wallace.

What to read before seeing the movie

The new David Foster Wallace biopic centers around the writer’s most iconic novel, Infinite Jest, as the story is adapted from writer David Lipsky’s interviews with Wallace at the end of his press tour for the text. Yet while Infinite Jest is considered a must-read for students of contemporary literature, not everyone has the time or inclination to power through its daunting 1,079 pages.

Here’s what you can read in significantly less time before (or after) seeing Jason Segel star as the legendary writer in The End of the Tour, in theaters Friday.

Short

This Is Water.” It’s the speech that launched a thousand tattoos, Wallace’s commencement address to the graduates of Kenyon College in 2005. He offers a philosophy for resetting your default (read: egocentric) way of thinking about the world, promising, “It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.” You can read a transcript, buy the book version or listen to the original recording.

Federer as a Religious Experience.” Wallace wrote an ode to the Swiss tennis pro fresh off his 2006 win over Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, not profiling the player but expounding on the joys of watching him in action. “The metaphysical explanation,” he says, “is that Roger Federer is one of those rare, preternatural athletes who appear to be exempt, at least in part, from certain physical laws.”

Consider the Lobster.” Wallace visited the Maine Lobster Festival for Gourmet Magazine in 2003 (the story was published a year later) and thoroughly explored the question, “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?” If you like the story, you can check out his essay collection by the same name.

The Depressed Person.” Wallace’s short story, originally published in Harper’s and later in his collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, is about a woman struggling with, yes, depression. Though the first sentence announces “the impossibility of sharing and articulating this pain,” Wallace of course finds a way to share and articulate it fluently.

Long

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. The 1997 essay collection includes treatises on television, tennis, David Lynch, the Illinois State Fair and, in the title story, cruise ships.

The Broom of the System. Wallace’s first novel, about a young woman whose great-grandmother has disappeared from her nursing home and whose cockatiel has started speaking, was published in 1987 when he was just 24.

The Pale King. His final (and unfinished) novel was published posthumously in 2011; it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It’s long, but only half as long as Infinite Jest.

TIME Books

Judy Blume Helps Husband Who Lost His Wife’s Treasured Copy of Her Book

Judy Blume In Conversation With WLRN's Alicia Zuckerman
Aaron Davidson—Getty Images Judy Blume In Conversation With WLRN's Alicia Zuckerman at Temple Judea on June 15, 2015 in Miami, Florida.

The author is sending a signed copy of Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

Judy Blume has come to the aid of a distraught husband who accidentally threw out a his wife’s cherished copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

The man had posted signs about the missing book in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, which someone photographed and posted on Instagram. The message read, “I accidentally gave this book away on Saturday July 25th in a box on the corner of of Green and Franklin Streets in Greenpoint. The book is extremely important to my wife. It was a keepsake from her mother and is irreplaceable. On the inside cover is a note that reads “Christmas 1991.” If you happened to pick up this book can you please get in touch with me.”

When the post was brought to Judy Blume’s attention, she tweeted that she would do her best to help:

Yes, Judy Blume really is a fairy godmother.

Read next: Judy Blume on Why Trigger Warnings Make Her ‘Blood Boil’

TIME psychology

How Not To Assess Risk

Roman poet and philosopher Titus Lucretius Carus (circa 95 - 55 BC).
Spencer Arnold—Getty Images Roman poet and philosopher Titus Lucretius Carus (circa 95 - 55 BC).

Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

It’s always good to re-read books and to dip back into them periodically. When reading a new book, I often miss out on crucial information (especially books that are hard to categorize with one descriptive sentence). When you come back to a book after reading hundreds of others you can’t help but make new connections with the old book and see it anew.

It has been a while since I read Anti-fragile. In the past I’ve talked about an Antifragile Way of Life, Learning to Love Volatility, the Definition of Antifragility , Antifragile life of economy, and the Noise and the Signal.

But upon re-reading Antifragile I came across the Lucretius Problem and I thought I’d share an excerpt. (Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher, best-known for his poem On the Nature of Things). Taleb writes:

Indeed, our bodies discover probabilities in a very sophisticated manner and assess risks much better than our intellects do. To take one example, risk management professionals look in the past for information on the so-called ​worst-case scenario ​and use it to estimate future risks – this method is called “stress testing.” They take the worst historical recession, the worst war, the worst historical move in interest rates, or the worst point in unemployment as an exact estimate for the worst future outcome​. But they never notice the following inconsistency: this so-called worst-case event, when it happened, exceeded the worst [known] case at the time.

I have called this mental defect the Lucretius problem, after the Latin poetic philosopher who wrote that the fool believes that the tallest mountain in the world will be equal to the tallest one he has observed. We consider the biggest object of any kind that we have seen in our lives or hear about as the largest item that can possibly exist. And we have been doing this for millennia.

Taleb brings up an interesting point, which is that our documented history can blind us. All we know is what we have been able to record.

We think because we have sophisticated data collecting techniques that we can capture all the data necessary to make decisions. We think we can use our current statistical techniques to draw historical trends using historical data without acknowledging the fact that past data recorders had fewer tools to capture the dark figure of unreported data. We also overestimate the validity of what has been recorded before and thus the trends we draw might tell a different story if we had the dark figure of unreported data.

Taleb continues:

The same can be seen in the Fukushima nuclear reactor, which experienced a catastrophic failure in 2011 when a tsunami struck. It had been built to withstand the worst past historical earthquake, with the builders not imagining much worse— and not thinking that the worst past event had to be a surprise, as it had no precedent. Likewise, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Fragilista Doctor Alan Greenspan, in his apology to Congress offered the classic “It never happened before.” Well, nature, unlike Fragilista Greenspan, prepares for what has not happened before, assuming worse harm is possible.

So what do we do and how do we deal with the blindness?

Taleb provides an answer which is to develop layers of redundancy to act as a buffer against oneself. We overvalue what we have recorded and assume it tells us the worst and best possible outcomes. Redundant layers are a buffer against our tendency to think what has been recorded is a map of the whole terrain. An example of a redundant feature could be a rainy day fund which acts as an insurance policy against something catastrophic such as a job loss that allows you to survive and fight another day.

Antifragile is a great book to read and you might learn something about yourself and the world you live in by reading it or in my case re-reading it.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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