Note: This review is by my husband Jim.
Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, who trained as psychologists, have become famous for their work describing how the human mind works, particularly in how it sometimes deceives itself. I would call them “intellectuals” though rather than “psychologists” because their ideas have permeated diverse fields such as economics, decision theory, law, medicine, political policy, and even sports. Kahneman received a Nobel Prize in economics; Tversky probably would have shared the award, had he survived. Nobel Prizes are not awarded posthumously.
The two friends and colleagues explored many patterns in thought by which human beings deceive themselves, from over-generalizing good assessments about a person based on one particular positive aspect, to deducing a cause and effect relationship between things that may just be randomly coincident in time or place.
Perhaps their biggest contribution was to debunk the reigning economic theory that rational decision-making guides human decision making. Their work led to the now ascendant field of behavioral economics, represented most prominently by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. [See, for example, the book Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard Thaler.]
Their work was also summarized and popularized in Kahneman’s best seller, Thinking, Fast and Slow, which I also recently reviewed.
Michael Lewis has written a book that combines the biographies of the two men; the story of the long-lived and sometimes tempestuous relationship between them (Lewis calls it “a love story”); and an explanation of their work and how it impacted other fields. Lewis is an excellent writer who is able to digest and explicate Tversky’s and Kahneman’s sometimes difficult and arcane ideas. Moreover, he is able to make the reader care about the two protagonists as people as well as the source of important concepts. His concluding chapter, especially the last paragraph, is particularly moving.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Published by W. W. Norton & Company, 2017