Review of “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds” by Michael Lewis

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.

30334134

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

Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in the 1970s.

Advertisements

About rhapsodyinbooks

We're into reading, politics, and intellectual exchanges.
This entry was posted in Book Review and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Review of “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds” by Michael Lewis

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I listened to this and struggled with it. I wonder if I would have understood/enjoyed it more in print.

  2. I have never read a Michael Lewis, even though he wrote a book about my local baseball team, the Oakland A’s. Maybe one of these days.

  3. Beth F says:

    Not sure this is a book for me, but looks excellent.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s