Over 500,000 people visited Farnam Street last month to learn how to make better decisions, create new ideas, and avoid stupid errors. With more than 100,000 subscribers to our popular weekly digest, we've become an online intellectual hub. To learn more about what we do, start here.

Tag Archives: Umberro Eco

The Antilibrary


I've been doing something pretty stupid and I just realized it.

This week, I caught myself feeling guilty as I walked into my office and looked at the ever-growing number of unread books.

Books I might never get to in my life let alone read this week. (See that picture above, I haven't read most of those books.) My bookshelf, that seems to reproduce on its own, is a constant source of ribbing my friends. “You'll never read all of those” they say and they're right. I won't.

That's not really how it works.

Nassim Taleb argues that only a person who doesn't understand knowledge walks into someone's library and asks, “have you read all these?”

In The Black Swan, Taleb writes:

The writer Umberro Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have. How many of these books have you read?” and the others—a very small minority—who get the point is that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendages but a research tool. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means … allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at your menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

A good library is filled with mostly unread books. That's the point. I'm not a huge fan of the kindle or audio books so I collect mostly physical books.

Looking for something to add to your antilibrary? See what I'm reading.