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The antilibrary

Posted by Mark Harrison on January 4, 2011

In my Top Gadgets 2010 post, I made reference to my antilibrary.

The anti-library is another concept invented by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (who also came up with the concept of the Black Swan).

It was, according to Taleb, influenced by the personal library of Umberto Eco. Professor Eco has, it would appear, about 30,000 books. (I am inspired – I only have about 5,000 – but must admit that my admiration is mixed with a twist of envy.)

The antilibrary is, in some ways, poorly named. It is not the opposite of the library, but a portion thereof.

  • My Antilibrary (to which I’ll give a capital A) is the set of books that I haven’t read.
  • My antilibrary (with a small a) is the set of books that sit on my shelves, but which I haven’t read.

Of my 5000ish books, there are a good few hundred that sit on a shelf for books that I have not yet read, but mean to this year.

To “get” the concept, ask yourself the following question:

Which are more useful; a random selection of 100 books that I have read, or the 100 that I’ve bought and have not yet read?

Statistically, a few of the 100 I have read will turn out to be the “useful references” I need to turn to regularly. However, statistically, I am hopeful that 100% of the 100 that I’ve not yet read will contain some useful insight or distinction that will help me, and my business, over the coming decade.

What is it that you don’t yet know that will end up transforming your life and business over the coming decade? I’m sure it’s in the Antilibrary somewhere, and hope that you will add it to your antilibrary soon, and then move it out of there into your mind. It’s normally the things you don’t know that bite you.


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