The Antilibrary

September 17, 2020 • #

In The Black Swan, Taleb raises the concept of the “Antilibrary,” using author Umberto Eco’s personal library of tens of thousands of books as an example. Here’s Shane Parrish on Taleb:

A good library is filled with mostly unread books. That’s the point. Our relationship with the unknown causes the very problem Taleb is famous for contextualizing: the black swan. Because we underestimate the value of what we don’t know and overvalue what we do know, we fundamentally misunderstand the likelihood of surprises.

I have no intention of physically stocking thousands of books I haven’t read, but a similar digital idea exists with services like Goodreads and the “To-Read” list. That’s been my method for tossing books into a queue for years (though a queue makes it sound like it’s an order in which I’ll read, really it’s a “these are interesting, I should remember them” list).

Avid readers like myself do enjoy the presence of physical books, though. Several months back I installed some bookshelves in our office/bedroom, which is now also my workspace. It’s the first time ever I’ve had storage space to put my entire library somewhere accessible.

Even though I have a larger library than most, I’m very selective about what physical books I buy. Kindle books I’ll purchase indiscriminately, but I’m conscious about buying more “stuff” to fill the house. With two young kids, that generates as much “stuff acquisition” as we can stand.


I’ve been slowly building out my own digital Antilibrary, though, moving my reading list from Goodreads over to a database in Airtable. When I visit my favorite used bookstores, I’ll pull this up on my phone to browse for interesting things to search for.

Topics:   books   reading