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The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds

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Bestselling author Michael Lewis examines how a Nobel Prize–winning theory of the mind altered our perception of reality.

Forty years ago, Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky wrote a series of breathtakingly original studies undoing our assumptions about the decision-making process. Their papers showed the ways in which the human mind erred, systematically, when forced to make judgments about uncertain situations. Their work created the field of behavioral economics, revolutionized Big Data studies, advanced evidence-based medicine, led to a new approach to government regulation, and made much of Michael Lewis’s own work possible. Kahneman and Tversky are more responsible than anybody for the powerful trend to mistrust human intuition and defer to algorithms.

The Undoing Project is about the fascinating collaboration between two men who have the dimensions of great literary figures. They became heroes in the university and on the battlefield―both had important careers in the Israeli military―and their research was deeply linked to their extraordinary life experiences. In the process they may well have changed, for good, mankind’s view of its own mind.

362 pages, Hardcover

First published December 6, 2016

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About the author

Michael Lewis

48 books12.7k followers
Michael Lewis, the best-selling author of Liar’s Poker, The Money Culture, The New New Thing, Moneyball, The Blind Side, Panic, Home Game, The Big Short, and Boomerang, among other works, lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife and three children.

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Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,438 followers
December 23, 2016
This nonfiction is unlike others Michael Lewis has offered us. In this he tries the trick of explaining confusion by demonstrating confusion, but near the end of this work we appreciate again Lewis’ distinctive clarity and well-developed sense of irony as he addresses a very consequential collaboration in the history of ideas. Lewis did something else he’d not done before as well. By the end of this book I was bawling aloud, in total sync with what Lewis was trying to convey: why humans do what we do.

Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist who won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics. What is remarkable about that statement is also what is remarkable about Lewis’ attempt to explain it. Lewis made us feel the chaos and the unlikelihood of such a success, in this case, of ever finding that one person who complements another so perfectly that the two literally spur one another to greater accomplishment. From a vast array of possible choices, opportunities, and directions come two psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, who together add up to more than the sum of their parts.

One thing became clear about the groundbreaking work done by Kahneman and Tversky: despite the curiosity, drive, and iconoclastic talent each possessed, their moments of greatest crossover relevance came as a result of the involvement of the other. This could push the discussion into an examination of the importance of pairs in creativity, but Lewis resists that thread to follow what he calls a “love story” to the end, to the breakup of the two men. Once the closest of friends and collaborators, the reason for their breakup is at least as instructive as anything else Lewis could have chosen to focus on, and it makes a helluva story, full of poignancy.

Kahneman was an idea man, throwing up new psychological insights constantly, beginning with his early work recruiting and training Israeli soldiers for the front line. Tversky was a widely admired mathematical psychologist, iconoclast, and skeptic who challenged accepted thinking and in so doing, provided new ways to look at old problems. Just by asking questions he could lead others to find innovative solutions. Both Israelis were teaching at the University of Michigan in the 1960s but their paths didn’t overlap until later, back in Israel. In one of the classes he taught at Hebrew University Kahneman challenged guest lecturer Tversky’s discussion on how people make decisions in conditions of uncertainty.

In this instance Kahneman became the iconoclast, the skeptic, pulling the rug from underneath Tversky. The challenge got under Tversky’s skin, but instead of falling prey to anger, Tversky was galvanized. Colleagues who saw him at this time recall his unusually intense period of questioning. After a period of time, the men came together again and thus began one of the richest and most rewarding periods of intellectual collaboration in modern times.

Together, both men were able to isolate some important pieces in the thinking sequences of humans who were presumed to maximize utility in rational, logical decision trees. It took many years to isolate what struck them as incomplete or incorrect in the accepted thinking of others, but what they concluded revolutionized the thinking in several disciplines, including economics (and baseball).

Lewis’s earlier book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game discussed how an algorithm assigning different weights to individual characteristics of baseball draft picks could by-pass the errors human tend to make when looking over a list of potential players. This is related, in a distant way, to the illogic discovered in the decision trees Kahneman and Tversky discussed, and unfortunately Lewis decides to revisit the breakthrough in his own understanding at the beginning of this book. Describing that tangential result of the men’s essential discovery unnecessarily complicates and obfuscates Lewis’ central thrust in this book—the relationship between two men who supercharge their achievements when they are together. Once Lewis settles into the real subject of his book, his writing becomes familiarly crystalline, filled with science and emotion, describing a singularly fascinating tale.

Particularly interesting is Lewis’ attention to how ideas develop. Lewis tries in several instances to get to the moment of insight, and then to the moments of greater insight which might lead finally to upturning accepted beliefs about how one thinks the world must work. Happiness and regret both came under the microscopes of these men and it was hugely insightful for them to discover that regret was the more impelling emotion. People often made decisions to minimize regret rather than maximize happiness. This led to the ‘discovery’ that the value of positive ‘goods’ decreased after a certain level of attainment, while the value of negative ‘bads’ never lost their bite. Which could be another way of describing the apparently supreme need to minimize loss rather than maximize gain. Which led to the discovery that people often gamble against what had been perceived as their own interests.

The two men were opposites of one another, Kahneman a heavy smoker whose office was messy and disordered, and Tversky, who hated smoking, with an office so well-organized it looked empty. For a period of almost twenty years, during the years of their greatest output, they could often be found together, talking, or writing one another if apart. They published hugely influential papers and became the toast of several continents. The closeness of the two men appeared to have no discrepancy until gradually over time, Tversky became better known and more popular in scientific and academic circles. The equilibrium of the relationship was thus unbalanced and a period of estrangement led the men in different directions.

The entire story, in Lewis’ hands, is wonderfully moving. If you can thrash your way through the thicket of ideas at the entrance to the main repository of ideas in this book, prepare yourselves to be utterly delighted.
Profile Image for Brina.
933 reviews4 followers
December 1, 2017
Being a baseball lover, one of my favorite books is Michael Lewis' Moneyball where he follows the low budget 2002 Oakland A's during their remarkable, division winning season. I found this book informative while also exploring the business of baseball. What made this book special is that Lewis made baseball interesting for people who are not usual fans of the sport. Lately I kept seeing reviews of Lewis' new book The Undoing Project appear on my Goodreads feed. While economics usually bores me, I decided to read this book anyway. If Lewis is capable of making baseball appeal to non sports fans, then he can also make behavioral economics and psychology accessible to a person like myself who is either finds the subject matter dull or tedious. As with the other Lewis books I have read, I was not disappointed.

Rather than jumping straight into theories on economics or psychology, Lewis chooses to open The Undoing Project with a reference to Moneyball, followed up with a chapter on how a psychologist with no sports background became an NBA general manager in charge of selecting potential players in the draft. Sports is not the first thing the average person evokes when discussing economics, yet, opening with a discourse on basketball immediately makes a difficult subject accessible to the average person. Yet, Lewis is not just discussing basketball. He offers psychological scenarios as to what people think of when they think of an NBA player. Usually that person is over six feet tall and athletic. Yet, in this situation, the general manager was also searching for players with good character and who respond favorably to a battery of questions. Lewis with this chapter put me in a positive mind frame to read about an otherwise tedious subject matter.

Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman were the least likely of friends. Both were among the pioneers of the new nation of Israel, Kahneman surviving the atrocities in Europe and Tversky born a sabra (native Israeli). Tversky was always the most popular and the life of a party whereas Kahneman was a natural introvert who barely felt comfortable in their own skin. After participating in wars at the formation of the Israeli state, both their paths eventually lead them to the psychology department at the brand new Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Kahneman leaned toward behavioral psychology whereas Tversky favored the mathematical aspect of the science. Despite being polar opposites in personality, their brilliant minds lead them to each other, and by the 1960s they began to collaborate on a series of game changing papers. The duo began to think as one mind and often could not remember who came up with each idea. The partnership was a match made in heaven, and for Kahneman, Tversky, and the science behind psychology, four decades of Undoing Freudian psychological theories would ensue.

Lewis alternates biographies of Kahneman and Tversky with the scientific data of their findings that eventually lead Kahneman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics. The majority of economists, according to Lewis, look down upon psychologists as inferior to them; however, Kahneman and Tversky over the course of their joint careers published findings that could not be ignored by either field. Listing four heuristics, the psychologist team set out to change the way people think about a series of outcomes. Lewis cites various positive and negative gambling scenarios and writes in a way that even those not versed in economics can understand his writing. The psychologists may have posed their original questions to graduate students and doctors, but in this book, these questions became accessible to the average reader. I was especially interested in knowing that these findings benefitted medical doctors, NBA general managers, the US free lunch program, as well as the Israeli Air Force training program. The most commonly cited finding in a variety of forms was A over B, C over A, then why in the end do people select B over C or A. These behavioral findings that were revolutionary in the 1970s are now the basis of a widely studied field called behavioral economics, which was the result of this unique partnership.

Michael Lewis himself has an advanced degree in economics. He actually had the opportunity to teach Tversky's son without knowing who he was. He has made a variety of timely economic issues accessible to the average reader in a way that is both engaging and even humorous. I found myself being enthralled in behavioral theories and actually would be interested in reading Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow even if normally this is not a topic that interests me. While Moneyball is a special book, Lewis' writing on economics and other money matters has explained complex issues in a way that is engaging and informative. A gifted writer and economist in his own right, I look forward to reading more of Lewis' works in the future.

5 stars
Profile Image for Jan Rice.
532 reviews460 followers
October 12, 2017
Originally reviewed in January, 2017

After reading about this book, I pre-ordered it, six months before its release date.

It's about the work of the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who published Thinking, Fast and Slow in 2011 and his late collaborator, Amos Tversky. Thinking, Fast and Slow had a big impact on me.

Moreover, The Undoing Project's author is Michael Lewis, of Moneyball and The Big Short fame. That's about all I knew of him. Around the book's release date there was a flurry of publicity interviews. I watched several, including the long one with Charlie Rose. Michael Lewis could hold his own and articulate his subjects' work.

Besides being a writer of best-selling nonfiction, some of which have been made into popular movies, Michael Lewis has an undergraduate degree in art history and a Master's in economics. He's worked as a trader, then resigned to write his first book, Liar's Poker, published back in 1989 just after he'd turned 29. He became a financial journalist and has written for an array of well-known magazines, including a stint as a senior editor at The New Republic.

This book, The Undoing Project, focuses on the biographies of Kahneman and Tversky, not only on their ideas and work.* That's not why I read it. That that's what Lewis had to do to appeal to his usual wide readership made me a little cynical. In the book, Daniel Kahneman becomes "Danny." The ups and downs of their relationship and the whys and wherefores of their collaborative creativity are a large part of the book. In my mind's eye I foresee a movie turning the two men into marketable personalities such as Oliver Sacks became in the movie Awakenings. I wonder how "Danny" is feeling about that. Yet that may be the price of cluing more people into their work. The Undoing Project is a best-seller, and Lewis' role here is as a popularizer.

He uses biography with its temporal correlate as one of his organizing principles, proceeding through ideas to some extent in the order they were hatched, but that doesn't necessarily help in the reader's grasping and ordering the ideas. That's one of my complaints. You won't necessarily be impacted by the ideas. You won't necessarily see that they apply to you, although they do. For that, read Kahneman's own book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Lewis says Kahneman is a star in the classroom, a contention supported by the fact that he's a star in that book, a genius of a teacher.

Kahneman has a subsection in his own book called "CAN PSYCHOLOGY BE TAUGHT?" which I transmuted into the broader question, "Can people be led to look at themselves?" and, on the basis of his book, I answered "Yes."

Another of my complaints about The Undoing Project is the first chapter, which is completely dedicated to basketball. Although Lewis touches on the ideas he's going to bring out later in the book, the chapter is not that comprehensible to those who don't follow basketball. I guess it's another nod to his general readership.

Now for the good part.

Despite the way the book is organized, the overload of biography, and that opening chapter, Michael Lewis is able to write clearly and succinctly about the cognitive illusions that bias our decisions. Having been previously introduced to those concepts, I experienced the book as a refresher course, and directly upon plunging in, breathed a sigh of relief as I felt my perspective clearing under its influence.

The book covers the usual territory: heuristics, bias, the weakness of expert judgment relative to algorithms, the cognitive illusions to which humans are subject. Heuristic: the term coined to reflect quick and dirty rules of thumb that, to a degree, work, except when they don't and lead us astray. For example, the "availability" heuristic: the more easily something comes to mind, the more important and right we think it is.

And, yes, it's science, not theory, that is, all research-based.

Rather than going into a lot of detail to describe it, though, I can attach a link or two, and then use most of my space here to describe some fun parts.

For example, knowledge is prediction. What do you think about that?

In the basketball chapter, Lewis describes how expert intuition failed to predict; hence the relative success of algorithms in giving an advantage to the team depending on them instead of conventional expert judgment.

Transitioning from basketball to baseball, here's an informative 2003 review of Moneyball by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, who figure in The Undoing Project. Surprisingly, when Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball, he'd never heard of Kahneman and Tversky or their work. He cites this review in his introduction. (The picture is of Billy Beane, not Lewis.)

Michael Lewis uses the technique of embedding the stories of various individuals whose careers and lives were impacted by Kahneman and Tversky's work. That technique I find useful, maybe because I, too, find their work impactful

Richard Thaler, one of the authors of The New Republic article I linked, is an economist who was having trouble finding his way in a field then based on the assumption that people were rational. The assumption had entailed that although people did err, they were essentially rational; their errors thus could be assumed to be randomly distributed--outweighed and meaningless. Instead, people's behavior was characterized by systematic error. If error was systematic, it could not be ignored.

Thaler got someone to send him a draft of "Value Theory." He instantly saw it for what it was, a truck packed with psychology that might be driven into inner sanctums of economics and exploded. The logic in the paper was awesome, overpowering. ... The paper blew a hole in economic theory for psychology to enter. "That really is the magic of the paper," said Thaler, "showing you could do it. Math with psychology in it. The paper was what an economist would call proof of existence. It captured so much of human nature."

That sounds like such a thrill; really gets my iconoclastic juices flowing.

There are so many examples of ways our thinking and decisions are shaped; framing for example: for people, perception of a "loss" depends on framing, which is manipulable. Two monkeys are satisfied when each is rewarded by a cucumber, but let one get a banana and all hell breaks loose. You earn a certain amount that you think is reasonable for work on a project--an amount that is greater than others in your group. Now say you earn the exact same amount but discover your peers received twice as much. Suddenly the previously sufficient amount is grossly inadequate.

That's just one example but one with which I'd become familiar since framing (or "reframing") had entered the therapeutic lexicon.

Another personage whose life and work surfaces in the book is Donald Redelmeier, a physician, who, as a result of having come across Kahneman and Tversky's work on judgment under uncertainty as a teenager, came to oversee decision-making in a trauma center as a preventive for systematic errors.

The article was called "Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases." It was in equal parts familiar and strange--what the hell was a "heuristic"? Redelmeier was seventeen ykears old, and some of the jargon was beyond him. But the article described three ways in which people made judgments when they didn't know the answer for sure. The names the author had given these--representativeness, availability, anchoring--were at once weird and secudtive. They made the phenomenon they described feel like secret knowledge. And yet what they were saying struck Redelmeier as the simple truth--mainly because he was fooled by the questions they put to the reader. He, too, guessed that the guy they named "Dick" and described so blandly was equally likely to be a lawyer or an engineer, even though he came from a pool that was mostly lawyers. He, too, made a different prediction when he was given worthless evidence than when he was given no evidence at all. He, too, thought that there were more words in a typical passage of English prose that started with K than had K in the third position, because words that began with K were easier to recall. ...

This wasn't just about how many words in the English language started with the letter K. This was about life and death. "That article was more thrilling than a movie to me," said Redelmeier.

Let me not forget to mention that people are geniuses of rationalization. We can't predict what's going to happen, but, once something does happen, we connect the dots to make whatever it was appear to have been inevitable. An "occupational hazard" of historians, thus, is to connect observed facts into a confident-sounding theory while neglecting the unobserved (or unobservable) facts. A similar hazard for social science experimenters is to take results that contradict the hypothesis and rationalize them, rather than discarding the hypothesis as flawed. Thus it is that talking heads of all sorts can often cover up their errors in prediction and simply keep on talking.

At one point Kahneman and Tversky were enamored of something called Decision Theory, thinking that presidents and prime ministers could be educated and aided in logic like emergency room physicians--until coming up against the fact that powerful people--usually men--mostly had no interest at all in knowing about their mistakes. Here is a New York Magazine review of The Undoing Project that tells a little more about that, shares an additional quote from the book, and makes the frightening connection to the Age of Trump: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/12/...

That article makes reference a Social and Behavioral Science Team in the Obama White House. Yes, most but not all leaders wish to remain oblivious to their gaps in making good decisions: former President Obama had a team in place to aid the government in using the new cognitive knowledge for the common good of the American people, and it remained in place until the last minute. Here's a link to an article about it from the January 23, 2017, issue of The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/201...

But, now,

(the) team, if it even continued to exist in the new Administration, would soon belong to one of the most anti-science President-elects in history, who has called climate change a "hoax," spread unproven claims about vaccinations' ties to autism, and mocked new brain-science-backed N.F.L. guidelines to prevent concussions, saying that football had grown "soft."

Sad, what we are losing! Two steps forward and, it appears, a giant step backward.

But we can still learn. Little simple things that make a difference.

Such as (from the same New Yorker article):

The team ... advised Obama officials on how to quash false claims that the President was a Muslim. (Instead of saying, “No, Obama is not a Muslim”—which simply increased association by repetition—it was better to counter with “Actually, Obama is a Christian.”)

In the Kahneman vernacular, just denying Obama is a Muslim played on the availability heuristic. Even though the content--the words--deny the charge, by repeating it they made it come to mind easier and thus seem more true and relevant. The second option, stating that Obama is a Christian, interfered. It threw a little bit of a monkey wrench into promulgation of the problematic belief.

This stuff is useful. If this is how our minds work (if that's the sort of thing that is working on our minds, anyway) then what constitutes free will is grasping that knowledge and using it for the sake of better thinking.

Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

There was little advantage in reasoning clearly, while much was to be gained from winning arguments.
---Elizabeth Kolbert, "Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds," Issue of February 27, 2017 http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/201...

And here's a new review of The Undoing Project from April 20, 2017, in which the reviewer is concerned about the potential for unconscious manipulation, that is, that cognitive science is being used to manipulate rather than to remove the sources of bias. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/... But he may be missing the degree to which cognitive science concerns how things are (not pushing how things should be)--that we're already swimming in a sea of pressures and biases--that reason isn't what we think it is.

October 11, 2017
*When I was reading and reviewing this book, I was critical of Michael Lewis' focus on relationship issues. I even thought that focus was in the service of an eventual movie. But subsequently an aspect of the relationship (and its eventual breakdown) is what has stayed with me.

The two principals had an extraordinarily intense and creative working relationship that they described as instantaneous sharing of ideas and uncritical acceptance as though two people were sharing one mind. Then they moved to another country. One of them got divorced and remarried. They no longer worked at the same university. One of them was more charismatic and impressive and got disproportionately rewarded by the world, so that he became convinced he was the more valuable partner and even began to take sole credit for work they had done together. Yet the other may have been the main source of their new ideas.

"Amos changed," said Danny. "When I gave him an idea he would look for what was good in it. For what was right with it. That, for me, was the happiness in the collaboration. He understood me better than I understood myself. He stopped doing that" (my italics).

What changes people? What frees them and lets them be who they are supposed to be? What saves them or activates them and really makes the difference? Something like what was going on with Kahneman and Tversky! But it can't be applied mechanically or as a technique. And it has nothing to do with being "nice."

...I don't think I'm in Kansas the territory of cognitive psychology anymore.

Richard Thaler has just won the Nobel in Economics. http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20...

Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
816 reviews2,583 followers
February 28, 2017
This is a great story about two genius psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. They did groundbreaking research that led to improved understanding of how we make decisions. Although their personalities were total opposites, they found themselves enthralled with one another, and collaborated closely for fifteen years.

Kahneman grew up in France just before and during World War II. His father helped his family narrowly escape from the grips of the Nazis over and over again. After the war, he moved to Israel, where he enrolled in the psychology department at Hebrew University. He found that there were no highly qualified professors, so he really taught himself. Then he joined the Israeli army, where his psychology training was put into use. He was ordered to figure out which candidates for officer training school were most likely to succeed. So, he designed strange tasks for the candidates to perform, and evaluated their test results.

Amos Tversky, on the other hand, was born in Israel. His personality was totally the opposite of Kahneman's; he was outgoing, popular, and always the optimist. He volunteered for paratrooper school, and became a platoon commander. He received a high award for bravery, by saving the life of a fellow soldier, at great risk of his own life. While handing Tversky the award, Moshe Dayan said to him, "You did a very stupid and brave thing and you won't get away with it again." During the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Tversky again was in the heart of the battle, and he did some brave, but very stupid things.

While both Kahneman and Tversky were academic research psychologists, they found themselves working on practical problems of real interest to their country. They were required to design tests and tasks that would help determine the future careers of young soldiers, and also help to make other difficult decisions for the country. Just after that war, Tversky gave soldiers questions about what motivated them during battles. It was not love of country; it was more obvious--soldiers fought for their friends and families.

At a certain point in their careers, the unlikely pair of psychologists got together and began collaborating. Their capabilities complemented one another. Kahneman was "the idea man", and Tversky was the genius mathematician. Neither of them could say, "this was my work", because it was always a true collaboration. They worked on decision theory, and the biases and prejudices that keep people from making optimal decisions. The book describes their experiments and results, and makes for some very interesting reading. They showed how people do not really understand probability; people are not very good at evaluating the odds of some event happening, or evaluating which of two events is more likely to happen.

The book relates how relatively simple algorithms can yield better, more reliable medical diagnoses than experienced doctors. This is also true in many other fields where "experts" think they have unique gifts for making decisions. The first chapter in the book discusses how this is even true for the case of recruiting basketball players into NBA teams.

Michael Lewis' book is fascinating throughout, and goes through the logic of many of the insights and discoveries that this pair of psychologists made. I did find it a little strange that no mention was made of the fantastic, best-selling book by Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow. I whole-heartedly recommend Kahneman's book to anybody seriously interested in psychology. Michael Lewis' book is better suited for the general public, it is easier reading, but not as in-depth. I have read a few other books by Michael Lewis (The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt) and also saw the recent movie made from his book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. The Undoing Project is just as good as Lewis' other books, and I recommend it just as highly.
Profile Image for John.
672 reviews
May 17, 2018
First of all, I feel somewhat guilty about the rating. Some parts of the book I liked very much. Michael Lewis writes well but I believe he has fallen short here. Lewis is best at setting up an underdog who beats the system (in sports, the financial markets, etc.). He has attempted the same here about Tversky and Kahneman. But reading about academics who challenge conventional wisdom in the field of psychology is ... less interesting than financial traders who short the mortgage market, or adoptive parents who help their talented son beat the odds and get drafted to the NFL, or who compile a winning sports team through metrics.

The first chapter is not at all about Kahneman and Tversky, but about the use of metrics by the Houston Rockets in the NBA. Very interesting to me, but it appeared to be some creative recycling by the author of some good material he never worked into book length. Then the book launched into some very interesting biographical information about Kahneman and Tversky, By the middle of the book, however, I was bogged down into what I felt were interminable descriptions of faculty politics, and various surveys designed by K and T to demonstrate irrational thinking. Then they broke up, and (spoiler alert) Tversky died. I felt the book could never really decide if it was a biographical appreciation or an explanation of their theories.

Given that Kahneman wrote his own successful book aimed at a popular audience (Thinking Fast and Slow), is this book merely the result of Lewis' "pitch" to possible movie producers? I suspect that Lewis made much more money from the movies made from his books than from the books themselves.
Profile Image for David Rush.
346 reviews30 followers
December 29, 2016
I will be bold, and confidently tell you what this book is all about...Humans making decisions are inherently handicapped by systematic biases that make them think they are being logical, but often, or possibly usually, are not.

And Mankind longs for certainty but we live in an inherently uncertain word.

Man is a deterministic device thrown into a probabilistic Universe (Kindle Locations 2619-2620).

There, no need to read any more or my review.

BUT, I do ramble on, so here goes…

The two psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman starting in the 1960’s, discovered when people make decisions in times of uncertainty, they are influenced by biases in place of statistical thinking, and sometimes flying in the face of statistics, make decisions quite confidently. Sometimes with deadly results.

There are tons of cool psychology terms like heuristic, availability heuristic, representativeness heuristic. I am not going to define heuristic for anybody, until I actually figure it out, and that may be my first criticism, Lewis mentions something about “rules of thumb” and somehow I’m supposed to understand what “heuristic” means. I think I picked it up from context, but I don’t want to embarrass myself by mis-defining it.

OK, refocus! SO, we humans live in an uncertain world, but in general we bend our thinking and our memory so we are more certain of things than we ought to be. And Daniel Kahneman was uniquely qualified to investigate this kind of thing.

The closest he came to certainty was in his approach to making decisions. He never simply went with his first thought. He suggested a new definition of the nerd: a person who knows his own mind well enough to mistrust it. (Kindle Locations 245-247).

And they go on to identify and the multitude of ways people reassure themselves they are right.

The more easily people can call some scenario to mind— the more available it is to them— the more probable they find it to be. (Kindle Locations 2506-2507).

“Consequently,” Amos and Danny wrote, “the use of the availability heuristic leads to systematic biases.” Human judgment was distorted by . . . the memorable. (Kindle Locations 2531-2533).

As it relates to the last US presidential election the key insight is that people simply don’t make decision because of factual analysis…

Apparently the director-general didn’t want to rely on the best estimates. He preferred his own internal probability calculator: his gut. “That was the moment I gave up on decision analysis,” said Danny. “No one ever made a decision because of a number. They need a story.” (Kindle Locations 3359-3361).

And of course one big argument is between this thinking and economist (and their related political parties) who claim people will act logically in their own self interests. Thereby letting the invisible hand of capitalism solve all our problems.

von Neumann and Morgenstern transitivity axiom: If he preferred A to B and B to C, then he should prefer A to C. Anyone who preferred A to B and B to C but then turned around and preferred C to A violated expected utility theory. (Kindle Locations 3429-3432).

Like the other rules of rationality, the independence axiom seemed reasonable, and not obviously contradicted by the way human beings generally behaved. (Kindle Locations 3437-3438).

Too bad it is just a crock of, well something.

People don’t make decisions because of the “utility” of how it will improve their life. The point is people make decisions because of the story line they construct in their head. The story generated either from memory or from cultural outside influences. Which definitely explains the whole business of advertising. Too bad we are running the world because of the stories

But these stories people told themselves were biased by the availability of the material used to construct them. “Images of the future are shaped by experience of the past,” they wrote, turning on its head Santayana’s famous lines about the importance of history: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. What people remember about the past, they suggested, is likely to warp their judgment of the future. “We often decide that an outcome is extremely unlikely or impossible, because we are unable to imagine any chain of events that could cause it to occur. The defect, often, is in our imagination.” (Kindle Locations 2569-2575).

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I have to point out that any smart person reading this or the book itself will think "HEY!, that is not me!", "I am logical and make logical decisions".

And it does get fuzzy, because a lot of their evidence is from psychological test with a bunch of hypothetical situations. So, sure, maybe in real life we would straighten up and not let our natural biases rule us. And I bet a lot of people believe that. But seeing some of the real life choices I've seen or heard about...I'm gonna stick with Amos and Danny.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

There is a bunch more, and some pretty shocking examples of how susceptible “experts” are to all these same biases.

On a final note, most of what I said above is from the first ¾ of the book. And the last part is about “The Undoing Project” that is not covered as well, to the point I wonder why Lewis chose that title. Unless he is saying A & D are "undoing" the thinking of the conventional world? Or more probably it was some wordplay and only refers the undoing of their friendship, maybe.

Conclusion 1: Great points on how screwed we are as a civilization and how making good decision is an uphill battle.

Conclusion 2: Even though they were both brilliant psychologist and I’m just a poor schlub reading about them, I think they are so into discounting traditional psychology they miss a big part of being human. I don’t think either of them give much credence that we are anything more than decisions making machines. Not much for the unconscious or subconscious or any non-measurable part to living. So my irrational notion there is something more to life than the measurable, keeps me from being more enthusiastic about this book, and I wish Lewis had addressed that.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,080 reviews619 followers
January 7, 2022
Amos Tversky and David Kahneman are psychologists who met in Israel in the 1960’s. Though very different in personality, they became very close friends and went on to collaborate in producing a number of papers concerning what came to be known as behavioural economics – or in layman’s terms, the psychology of judgement and decision making. In essence, they argued that departures in human rational thought can be predicted and its impacts calculated. To demonstrate this, they concocted numerous scenarios and asked students and others to choose between various courses of action. In so doing, they demonstrated that some favoured choices were just not logical. They went on to share their thoughts on why these illogical choices were dominant and how such responses could be anticipated.

The theories they propounded have been largely accepted and have had significant positive impacts in many fields – economics, science, law and public policy, to name just a few. This book explains their theories to some degree but it’s main focus is on them as individuals – their lives, personalities and backgrounds – and on how they worked together. They effectively set themselves up in a room, away from others, and verbalised and their thoughts and built on and challenged the ideas that surfaced. In so doing they effectively became one voice, it was very much a working ‘marriage’.

Like any marriage it eventually suffered ups and downs and the human side of this account is both fascinating and, at times, sad. I can’t claim that I became an expert in behavioural economics as a result of this book, but a basic understanding of the rudiments was enough to give me insight into the significance of their work. Ok, it’s a bit dry in places but I did enjoy dipping my toe into the water of an area in which I had no previous knowledge.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,731 followers
February 7, 2017
“He suggested a new definition of the nerd: a person who knows his own mind well enough to mistrust it.”
― Michael Lewis, The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds


Tversky Intelligence Test: "The faster you realized Tversky was smarter than you, the smarter you were."

I love Michael Lewis. His ability for finding an idea that is centered on a person and then telling that person's story is phenomenal. He isn't the only one that does it. John McPhee is a master at this angle (perhaps THE master). Lewis just does it very, very well.

This book is basically a book about the development of behavioral economics, or at least the thread of behavioral economics that came from two Israeli psychologists -- Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. These men were two brilliant academics drawn together by a marriage of knowledge and they created a family of ideas related to:

- Cognitive psychology
- Judgment and decision-making
- Behavioral economics
- Hedonic psychology

They wrote revolutionary papers on:

- anchoring and adjustment
- availability heuristic
- base rate fallacy
- conjunction fallacy
- framing
- behavioral finance
- clustering illusion
- loss aversion
- prospect theory
- cumulative prospect theory
- representativeness heuristic

I first heard of these men when I was studying public policy back in my young college days. The professor I worked under had his PhD from Chicago and was constantly throwing various funky economic articles, etc., at us. It was through this professor I was first exposed to Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (see Freakonomics), Dan Ariely, AND Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. I loved behavioral economics. I'm not sure what it is about multi-disciplinary approaches, but I've always loved them. I often find academic fields to be too insular, too artificial. In a way, there are huge gaps that never get covered because they don't fit easily into one field (or any field). Those academics who are willing to learn another language and take their search for truth beyond economics, or math, or physics, biology, chemistry, or psychology and utilize the language and processes of other fields THRILL me. So, while there wasn't much on the academic side here I wasn't already familiar with from things I've read the lsat 20 years, I LOVED reading about Kahneman and Tversky (and some of the other minor players in this book).
Profile Image for Michael Perkins.
Author 6 books375 followers
September 25, 2021
This book is a major departure from Lewis's other books, of which I have read many. He usually has a single narrative arc from beginning to end, which has served him well, but is missing in this book.

I was quite interested in the topic given I have read "Thinking, Fast and Slow" three times, which is chock full of insight and practical wisdom based on sophisticated research. I found the Lewis book to be disorganized and rather a mess, unfortunately. And though Lewis is obviously the better stylist, he was not as lucid or concise in explaining the most interesting ideas that Kahenman explicates in his own book. If you have not read "Thinking, Fast and Slow," I recommend reading that book instead.

Profile Image for Christy.
113 reviews270 followers
December 24, 2016
To start with the mundane and annoying: for a book with this much technical content, terms, and names an index almost seems a necessity, yet none was provided. More foot/endnotes and perhaps a fuller bibliography would be helpful, too. We must support the popularization of scholarly topics, and I’ve read that it takes, on average, at least 20 years for new ideas, analyses, and discoveries to move out of the academic curriculum of higher education to what we teach our children in secondary schools. I would have been less annoyed with the single reference to the importance of Gestalt theory here without Kurt Lewin, ��utility theory” without Bentham’s utilitarianism, etc. I have read the criticism that the theory isn’t “taught” so much here, but Lewis is clear it’s about the “friendship”, after all, and the context of discovery as well as the influences in and around their mathematical psychology/behavioral economics but, still, how much time and money does it take? That Lewis’ books are so plentiful, popular, and apparently all on cutting-edge issues, yet the books don’t include full references has to be part of some problem. However, to his credit, he does mention the issue of the academic/popular divide in non-fiction writing on scholar topics in his endnote. I did enjoy Lewis’ good writing, even if nothing is clearly explained except for about the two, their friendship and thinking, and the environs of that. Early on Lewis reminds us of the folly of our never-ending desire to have experts who know things with “certainty”. I don’t need that in writing, and maybe I’ve graded too many papers, but I want a clear thesis. Lewis writes about a ton of interesting things, but I want to see some kind of argument through-line, even if it’s to poke fun at an argument. One of the delightful facts, also hidden in his endnotes, is the coincidence by which Lewis got to know Tversky’s family including access to his papers. Lewis was a teacher of one of Tversky’s sons! He ended up meeting the mother while giving the child a recommendation.

I was studying Sociology of Science and researching probability theory in social science when I learned about Tversky and Kahneman’s theory, and heard a talk by Gigerenzer (that I think Lewis dismisses unfairly, discussed below.) We know that decision-making in Behavioral Economics and applied market analyses were studied throughout the latter half of the 20th century with the same, central question: what does mind do when it’s deciding on something, when we’re uncertain about if and how to make a choice? Of course, our "emotional brain" emotes on it! Otherwise, we often cannot make decisions. I'd understood from Damasio Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain and LeDoux Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are that emotions must often be applied to our reason in order to make a decision, the former noting the example of the man that in an accident had his neocortex separated from the limbic system (emotional center) and he ceased ability to make decisions, merely calculating and considering one possible decision after another without emotions to force a choice. As Lewis shared, humans don’t make decisions over a number, but need a “story”. We can’t remove the human mind from our decision-making processes, and we often experience “failure(s) of human intuition” like with the Thorndike’s well-known “halo effect”, when we make judgments of others based what we want to see, and don’t often recognize what we aren’t expecting to see. In the last decade or two, computer software and algorithms have improved data analysis and predictive strength, but we can’t program a computer to remove surprises and the unexpected from our perceptions. That is a goal of the “undoing project”. Data-driven decision making in sports isn’t an interest of mine as I don’t like sports (and even avoid sports metaphors), so the first part of this book was a bit painful to get through. Certainly, the read became to me much more interesting when it switched to Kahneman’s life and early influences.

In their early work, Kahneman and Tversky contrast formal, scientific, statistical thinking with our everyday judgments of probabilities in real life situations. They claim everyone commits the fallacies, including our expert statisticians when they estimate probabilities in everyday situations. They grant that people are not “economic men (sic)”: rational-logical, unbiased, with calculator brains. However, they think this divergence between everyday estimates and statistical, formal thinking to informal thinking is bad. They themselves are normatively defending the explicit, rational approach. I loved their criticism of statisticians’ irrationality as I’d taken and somehow passed Advanced Statistics at the same time working on an independent study project critiquing the use of probability theory in social sciences. When I mentioned to my stats prof that only one of several versions of probability theory underlies all of statistics, he threw up a bit of the salad he was eating (true story). I was also concerned with the “growing prestige of math in the social sciences” (or what others have called “physics envy”!) instead of social and behavioral sciences focusing on important questions. It didn’t help that my doctorate statistician professor was what I called an “asocial sociologist” (how does that happen?) who casually mentioned that most all his best students appeared to be males over the years, with only two females in a class of a dozen or so, then gave me lower grades than my lazy male buddy who I helped work out some of the assignments. He also said that only students who can’t do statistics well read Marx and Weber.

Thaler and Redelemier were also two interesting people we meet in Lewis’ story. Thaler argued that “it is the anticipation of regret that affects decisions, along with the anticipation of other consequences”. We decide in ways not to “maximize utility” but to “minimize regret”, since more utility (happiness, in Bentham's calculus) tops out but regret is the gift that keeps on giving (negatively). Redelemeier became Tversky and Kahneman’s “pet schnauzer” protegee, and noticed that while medical school professors made errors in a systematic and traceable way they did not assume errors were in their data. I love that he became a doctor because he loved Hawkeye Pierce on MASH, and also the observation that since most diseased people get better, it’s difficult for the doctor not to believe they had a definitive role on it. “In math you check your work, in medicine, no”, in part as “to acknowledge uncertainty is to admit error”, as Lewis summarizes. Stanford’s head of cardiology advocated against motorcycle helmets, and Redelmieier was amazed at the stupidity that a medical doctor could do that, but I understand the “macho Western man” mentality. (The use of medical decisions here and in several other places in this book are poignant in the context of the news this week that a Harvard study claims that female physicians save 10s of thousands of patients more than male physicians…hummm?)

Towards the end, the economists were explained almost as the manifestation of their Neo-classical economic views of human nature. They were egotistical and wanted to prove their points, while psychologists were more introspective and wanted to sort out different positions. “Psychologists saw economists as immoral and economists say psychologists as stupid.” I’m not sure if this dichotomy is true or based in any real analysis of personality types besides anecdote. I’ve known economists that were the inquisitive, collaborative type and the psychologists were the cut-throat, competitive pedants, out to not learn the best perspective but to promote their own. In any case, Comte believed that psychological was not a science, or at least the introspective part of it, and it’s it interesting to compare this cross-disciplinarity with how Marx took up biological terms in his economic analysis, and now psychology as "decision science" uses the market terms of economics: utility, value, choice.

I was close to finished with the book last weekend when I read Leonhard’s NYT review (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/boo...) that seemed to shift at the end between the descriptive claim of Kahneman and Tversky that people think fallaciously in everyday estimates and their normative claim that the rational, statistical approach is better and ought to be followed. Leonhard’s clumsy analogy to Trump came after Lewis’ better comment in the book, noting the failure of accurate assessment by journalism as few to none “shoe-leather reporters saw Trump coming”. Leonhard’s claiming Trump undermines Kahneman and Tversky’s approach confuses what they describe as happening with what the advocate as good to do. He seems to claim that the Trump victory shows that rational thinking is not successful in that Trump won. But this seems to be assuming that Trump’s win is desirable (which Leonhard obviously doesn’t believe). On the other hand, voters’ behavior electing Trump does illustrate the irrational nature of everyday thinking that Kahneman and Tversky describe.

Leonhard’s saying that Trump undermines Kahneman and Tversky seems confused. He shows what they claim people actually do. However, if Kahneman and Tversky advocate “rational” thinking, and this rational thinking failed to stop Hitler and Trump this shows emotional biases trump (!) statistical thinking. It would seem the solution is for the advocate of rational, statistical thinking to study the Trumpites and figure out how to sway them away from Trump. This means attempting to rationally understand the irrational, for instance, Marx tried to do. Marx was a rationalist in his own position, but wasn’t a rationalist in the sense of believing society was driven by people’s purely rational reasons. Kahneman and Tversky’s implicit advocacy of pure rationality vs. irrationality is oversimplified in that reason must understand and channel irrationality. This is somewhat like Freud, who was a nineteenth-century rationalist, but believed most human thinking was irrational, and advocated a technique to change the irrational into the rational. Wilhem Reich and the Frankfurt School critical theorists, albeit unsuccessfully, attempted to do this kind of “social psychoanalysis” to counter fascist movements. Something like this is needed to deal with social irrationality. Perhaps what is needed is a successful version of this project, that includes clarifying what we mean by success.

I am disappointed in movements for data-driven decision-making, as they get co-opted for corporate purposes. I’m a bit embarrassed to have organized with others the first two “data-driven decision-making” conference for education in the US (’93 and ’94) and by the end of that decade the “DD DM” phrase was cliché, but Big Data and decision-making in education is a mess today. I must get to Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy because Lewis reminds of strongly of how mathematical modeling is over- and misused, as if the models represent anything real or useful, and often include serious “oversimplification”. (I used to argue with my Stats prof whether the Central Limit Theorem was found or created.) What I ached to read about here and was left empty, is where is the real “undoing” of the paradigm of Enlightenment thought that held that the twin pillars of science and rationality that were taken up by Western capitalism would make humanity better? Wouldn't a “success” model focus on social problem solving? The problem with the ideology of the never ending, always expanding Western notion of progress is that the focus on better “results” through statistically complex decision-making is only for the win, the sale, the deal, the pitch (in both sports, as Lewis reminds, and in advertising).

Some of the most interesting threads were about their Jewish heritage and early and later life in Israel. Both of these collaborators had Rabbi grandfathers, were atheists, and influenced heavily by their involvement in the ’73 Yom Kippur War (a time that was referenced when a provost, whose Israeli brother was killed during that fighting like one of their nephews were, told my friend, an academic colleague who’d started a local Palestinian Rights group, that my colleague was the type that “loved dead Jews but hated live ones”. So, I’ve sensed the strong impact of that particular war on the Jewish psyche). Going through tragedies makes us all wiser and stronger on the other end, even often at long last, and it was good for Lewis to note the war made them both less “academic” in the bad sense (over-specialized, theory without application) but focused on “real life” practical solutions to problems.

It was good for this staunch pro-Palestine heart to imagine how in ‘48, as I never had before, that some parents and children would recognize each other on the Tel Aviv streets fleeing the gas chambers of Nazi Germany. Lewis discusses Tversky’s stereotypical Jewish self-conception as a “brain without a body” - a strong mind with a weak body. Tversky had no friends growing up and was intellectually precocious (perhaps autistic or Asperger’s, like Einstein?) and wondered why humans needed religion as a young person. He did not have to do the regular conscription in the Israeli Army as his academic achievement was obvious. I thrilled to the visions of Post-war Israeli who by that point had the most remarkable scholars from around the world and especially in the sciences and the philosophy of science. Tversky taught himself statistics in is a psychology that was largely behavioristic. I adored the distinction between “WASP psychology” white-rat behaviorism and “Jewish psychology”, that accepted the “great wet mess” of the human experience and the problem of objectivity. Israeli psychologists were among those making the humanist turn in psychology to Gestalt field-like thinking. Moshe Dayan spoke to a group of Israel youth, and said that Nahal (a youth group that coaxed people into the Kibbutz) were “traitors” and should be becoming “paratroopers” (and presumably fight Arabs) instead of farmers. As Tversky lay dying, Netanyahu was elected, and remarked he’d never see peace in his lifetime, and knew he wouldn’t, in fact.

Gigerenzer in various articles and in a popular book version, Gut Instinct, disagrees with Kahneman and Tversky’s theory. He thinks that the rough and ready heuristics of intuitive thinking often do better than the explicit, statistical decision analysis. It is not true, as Lewis claims, that Gigerenzer totally ignored their work and did accurately criticize their statistical fallacies, showing that many were not fallacies in alternative theories of statistics. Gigerenzer happened to go through their fallacies and went in detail in a public talk I attended at the Univ. of NH when he was brought it by a psychology prof with whom I’d studied. I don't believe that Gigerenzer described only “the object of his scorn as he wished it to be rather than as it was”, as Lewis claimed. Gigerenzer’s claim that the fallacies that Kahneman and Tversky claim to identify are only fallacies on a certain kind of Bayesian probability and not on the most commonly used scientific probability, the frequency theory. (Again, even well-known statistics professors do not always understand the varieties of probability theory.) Lewis admits that neither Tversky or Kahneman were eager to counter Gigerenzer, but leaves the impressed Gigerenzer is dismissed while Lewis stoops a bit to link Tversky’s rapid hatred of Gigerenzer to the latter’s connection to the Nazi Germany that Tversky naturally hated.

The best aspect of the book were the recounts of the intense friendship of Kahneman (who sounds “textbook” high-functioning Autistic to me) formal, serious, solitary, nervous, pessimistic, and Tversky informal, irreverent, social, happy, optimistic. (Living with two of the former, both partner and child, with me squarely the latter, I enjoyed noting and comparing what Lewis revealed about their relationship - the Oscar and Felix of TV’s “Odd Couple” of decision sciences!) They loved each other – an ending salutations on a letter from Amos to Danny gave “goosebumps from emotion”, and they had that passion, loud-voiced exchange I’m used to from Eastern Europeans and New Yorkers - “we’re Israeli, so we yell at each other.” A Jewish friend tells me in her culture people interrupt each other not out of rudeness but because we’re so eager to talk to each other – to communicate with someone we love, and with the ability to be each other’s strongest and most helpful critics, too. They understood the key to getting along is good faith (of the Sartre kind) and good humor and Lewis mentions the almost constant, hearty laughter between them, or at least when they weren’t arguing for hours on end. This intense of a relationship is the best we can get with friends and lovers in both our short- and long-term relationships. The two reminded me to be grateful for having similarly powerful relationships including with the friends that when if you don’t connect with each other for too long a spell the hearts do ache for it. When we’re older and as secure as we’re going to get, we admit that more to each other, don’t we? Their story is one of communication, of mutual need and enjoyment of just being together, and brings us a bit of awe to realize how fragile relationships are – how we can’t always know what brings people together and drives people apart, and why, indeed, it seems imperative to spend “quality” time with some people and not with others, a focus on how various couplings can create something bigger than both, and how random changes can occur in relations. Even though they experienced “divorce” of each other and admitted the frustration and “pain” each caused the other, they were compelled to come back for more. Danny and Amos’ love and connection to each other is probably the real story of the human condition here.

Michael Lewis’ interview earlier this month on Charlie Rose has a number of juicy details that weren’t in the book, and is worth the watch if you want to know more: https://charlierose.com/videos/29545

Profile Image for WhatIReallyRead.
725 reviews506 followers
August 13, 2018
What I expected: a popular science book about psychology and the way human brain works.

What it actually was: a biogaphy.

And here I discovered that apparently, biographies are not really my thing. Haven't had much experience with them previously. Probably wouldn't have picked this up if I knew what I was getting into.

What I liked: the historical background the author gave - about Israel, its wars, the way people treat the army and the way military works and influences education, etc. Israel is a relatively new country, one surrounded by conflict and in many ways unusual. I don't know much about it. Since both people described in this biography are Israeli and served in the military, it was interesting to find out about.

What I didn't like:

1) The details and quotes that seemed irrelevant and boring - like what color suit he wore, how his desk looked, what this random person said about his facial expressions, who laughed when etc. I'm not particularly interested in trivial/personal details of some person's life as told by other people. In a memoir, we get the person's own perspective. In a biography, we either get an unfounded fictionalized description or a bunch of quotes. But if I don't know the person being quoted, the relevance of their opinion to me is zero.

2) The constant chant of "He was a genius! He was brilliant! He was spectacular!" got old pretty fast. Sure, that's what they are, but maybe give facts instead of 50 opinions of random people that are exactly the same?

3) I really could live without knowing about the petty fights behind closed doors, jealousy and asshole-ness between two genius scientist collaborators. I wished the book would focus more on science than on the personal dynamics and tensions.

4) The science itself, when described, felt like, and was a retelling. Better go read about it from the scientist himself in Thinking, Fast and Slow
Profile Image for Chase DuBois.
29 reviews44 followers
October 18, 2017
I’ve been captivated by other Michael Lewis books. This one was a disappointment and a waste of my time.

Lewis’s books are all about the same kind of subject: a set of men who are outsiders in some way have an insight, do things differently, and enjoy success (scrupulous or otherwise) in their fields.

Kahneman and Tversky match this description, and they are definitely worthy subjects. Their original research papers are far and away the most accessible and enjoyable I have ever read (I hold onto my college copies of their anthologies dearly), and yet somehow the grace of the writing does not dumb it down; their papers are technically rigorous. More importantly, the ideas they introduced decades ago have had a profound impact on society, and by “profound” I don’t just mean that they’ve transformed the accepted wisdom in an entire field. While they certainly did that, it’s also true that real-world applications of their ideas have, among other things, saved thousands of human lives and improved millions of others.

So why is this book so dull?

First of all, it can’t decide what it’s about. Is it about Decision Theory? Is it about the power of collaboration? Is it a dual memoir? The subtitle (“a friendship that changed our minds”) suggests an emphasis on the latter two, and indeed Lewis spends a lot of time digging into the past of these men to tell their stories. But he also needs to describe their work in some detail to glue the story together, and the frequent jumps between theory and backstory end up making the book feel unfocused. Worse, the backstory is not compelling, at least not for me; even though I think of these men more or less as heroes, Lewis couldn’t convince me to care where they came from or who they were.

Here’s the problem. Liar’s Poker and Moneyball benefitted from world-building. One was set at a stock trading desk in the 1980s, while the other took place in the back office of a down-and-out major league baseball team. In both books, Lewis took time establishing the setting, which provided context and motivation for the story he went on to tell about the protagonists. It was interesting to get a peek into those worlds. Lewis kind-of sort-of tries to do the same here by talking about how various Israeli wars shaped Kahneman and Tversky’s identities, but that’s not really the realm in which they operated when they did their most interesting work. They were academics. They published papers. Initially they were met with skepticism, and then they were celebrated. That’s basically the whole story, and it doesn’t reveal anything new or inspiring or interesting about the world of academia.

The best part was the coda (the afterword), which finally set aside the tedious main story and talked about some of the practical applications and impacts of Kahneman & Tversky’s theories. I would gladly read a whole book about that (which, helpfully, Kahneman already wrote).

The one redeeming part of the main story was the insider’s glimpse at Kahneman & Tversky’s writing process. As a reader and writer, but also as a former writing consultant and the spouse of an ESL teacher who often works with young writers from collectivist cultures, I found it fascinating to see how two minds truly melded to form the ideas and words of the wonderful research papers I enjoyed years ago. Before reading this book, I knew their collaboration was close, but I didn’t know they literally sat together at the typewriter and deliberated their way through each word — as if each of their writer’s inner monologues came together for a dialogue in a room. It opens my mind to a form of knowledge-making that is at once so foreign to my American sensibilities and yet clearly so powerful.

But was that worth reading the whole book? No. Do yourself a favor and just read Kahneman and/or Tversky instead.
Profile Image for Amy.
920 reviews55 followers
September 6, 2017
A better subtitle: "The End of the Affair"
I'll justify my rating of this bromance soon.
Update 9/5/17 - ok, I think I've calmed down enough to do this properly....

So this story is basically a science boy-meets-boy, they have unequal/semi-abusive but productive (in terms of papers published) relationship for a while, losing end of the relationship wants more, alpha male reacts badly/abusively, boy-loses-boy, alpha male gets cancer and says 'now you'll miss me/you'll be sorry!' instead of making up before dying, boy dies. The end.

So, that's sort of fine, except the story is ostensibly about this great, amazing friendship that made waves in all manner of social sciences (economics, psychology, sociology etc.)... except it's not really fine, it's pretty yucky because although the author doesn't have to make a judgment call on this, it's obvious he's writing about this as some sort of once-in-a-generation beautiful, magical arrangement of nerd boy-chemistry with all these benefits the world inherits as a result. He includes all sorts of unnecessary anecdotes about secondary characters (including himself during his phase in the NBA attempting to judge grade draft selections) who are barely connected with the central relationship - they don't even need to have met (e.g. the author)- sometimes they are just people who were inspired by a thesis of theirs, sometimes they are merely people who would have benefited from their theories had they been aware of them. The only point of most of those stories is to show how influential and necessary the output from this friendship was/is.
So yeah, it feels a little like "Behavioral Science 50 Shades of Grey" that we're being sold pretty hard is cool --- the author appears to be specifically targeting stereotypical alpha males to his book with sports, stock market and Israeli military anecdotes. “Science bromance for jocks and privileged frat boys!”

If that were the only issue, I would still give this 3-stars, because honestly the work is interesting (who doesn't love to hear about decision-making quizzes that trained, highly educated professionals -i.e. statisticians, behavioralists - will fail even KNOWING all the data that should inform them to select correctly?). And I honestly have nothing against a bromance.

But, here's the glaring problem.
All women in this story are erased.
Remember those random anecdotes I mentioned? They were often tenuous in their connection to the narrative and yet they would get an entire chapter only to disappear for good by the next chapter. And they were all men. Many times the reader never really figures out why they feature in the book at all. The first mention of a woman was the lone participant of the inaugural psychology department class at Jerusalem University who did not complete her PhD because she was “waylaid by motherhood.” Um. Okay. The next and final mentions are about submissive nerd’s 2nd wife whose name is perhaps mentioned once (or maybe I just looked it up) but is usually referred to as “Danny’s wife” and who is mentioned at all as a sort of alternative explanation for the men’s breakup…. #2 moved to the U.S. with his new wife (who was from Europe) and even though #1 later moves to the US as well, that was the beginning of the end. She’s his Yoko Ono.

Turns out, “the wife” is Anne Treisman. Any student of analytical psychology knows who this woman is because she had a huge impact on modern day analytical psychology. She was highly disruptive in challenging accepted theories of behavior regarding attention and mental processes. Her work spawned 1000’s of experiments in experimental psychology, cognitive sciences, neurosciences and others. Her honors are many, including being a Fellow (like her husband) of the Royal Society of London & receiving the National Medal of Science from Barack Obama. So why is Treisman “the other woman” instead of “nerd #2’s better half who encouraged and inspired him in XYZ directions before during and after his relationship with nerd #1?” Meanwhile ‘the guy who started some class in a basement that one of the nerds read a paper from’ gets a whole chapter?!

I’ll call this ‘man-washing’ for lack of a coined term. The author did a ton of research; he interviewed numerous people involved in the central relationship’s lives or tangentially influenced by them… enough that you can figure out just how unbalanced the relationship was from all the quotes utilized. I find it difficult to believe he wasn’t aware somehow of Anne’s own status in the field and her influence on nerd #2. And yet he chooses to minimize her. This is why idiot malcontent men think they are being reasonable when making claims about what men and women’s ‘biological differences’ are that enhance or restrict their contributions to technology and society. Because male authors like this (and he has a substantial platform with 3 non-fiction works translated to film) are writing material that highlight only men’s contributions and not only downplay but actually erase the contributions of white and minority women and male POC.
1,721 reviews9 followers
December 15, 2016
(1 1/2) Double expresso....check. Red Bull....check. Adderall....check. Make sure you have all these ingredients close by when you take on this book. It will require all your concentration to not zone out as you are reading it. Yes, there is some interesting stuff in here, but you have to fight for it. Most of Lewis's other books have had popular themes or stories that kept you going and engaged the entire time. This one does not. It is a tricky read.
Profile Image for L.A. Starks.
Author 11 books665 followers
January 2, 2017
If Kahneman and Tversky were giving talks today, they'd be YouTube/TED talk stars.

While I first became acquainted with their work during business school, Lewis more comprehensively outlines how their take on psychology has so profoundly affected the discipline of economically-rational (or not so rational) man. Anything published in the last fifteen years on the subject of decision-making owes a debt to these two remarkable researchers.

Tversky passed away before the Nobel prize was awarded for his work with Kahneman. Since the Nobel is not given posthumously, Kahneman was the sole recipient. However, Tversky, who became a Stanford professor, was widely-recognized and honored during his lifetime.

Non-fiction; highly recommended for readers interested in business, decision-making, economics, and statistics.

Profile Image for Brandon Forsyth.
899 reviews150 followers
December 26, 2016
I think my friend Andrew put this best: only Michael Lewis could make this story exciting. The only thing I can add to this is that I am now genuinely excited to read Daniel Kahneman's THINKING FAST AND SLOW, a book that it feels like a hundred people have tried to sell me on over the years and that I had, up until this moment, resisted. Lewis is a master storyteller, and the way he plays with the tension of both this ideological partnership and the ideas themselves is truly impressive. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Daniel Clausen.
Author 11 books467 followers
March 30, 2020
You don't need this book to introduce you to concepts of "bounded rationality" and analytical biases. These concepts are available in a great number of mediums now, whether it is MBA courses, free Moocs, or elsewhere. But I think every serious thinker needs to get some exposure to the psychology of analytical mistakes. My first exposure to these concepts was in the book "The Psychology of Intelligence" by Richard Heuer. It's still my favorite book on analytical folly and some of its remedies. It's also absolutely free to download and read. A close second and third and fourth would be the works by Nassim Taleb: Fooled by Randomness and Black Swan (also, Antifragile). I'm sure some very good Youtube videos introduce these ideas as well.

The most important bias that keeps coming up over and over in my readings is this one: Humans are story-generating machines. We love to make sense of nonsense through causal stories after the fact. In this book, it is called "historical bias" in others "the hindsight fallacy". Once an event has occurred, we create causal stories that then seem obvious from the vantage point of the present. The stories are even more effective (politically) when they have clear villains and heroes.

Recently, one of the things I've been trying to do is write a history of the future from my point in the present. I tried to write this future probabilistically with the understanding that my understanding of the future is anchored by things happening in the present. In effect, I'm writing nonsense. But in clearing out as many of my biases as possible, hopefully, it is useful nonsense.

As for Michael Lewis and his book: I'm very happy to see someone taking the life story of scholars seriously. Who would have thought that a journalist would want to investigate the lives of dry and crusty academics? And yet, even crusty academics have wonderful human stories to tell it seems.
Profile Image for Jeanne.
1,001 reviews67 followers
January 27, 2019
A part of good science is to see what everyone else can see but think what no one else has ever said. (p. 345)

Michael Lewis's The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds is actually three books for the price of one. Read it as a discussion of science and the way it works, the ways psychology has been tipped upside down by Amos Tversky and Danny Kahneman*, and finally, as an intimate portrait of friendship.

When I first started studying psychology (in the 1970s), I saw a fascinating field – what visual illusions say about perception and cognition, for example – but I saw the field as following a regular and predictable forward progression. You learned some, then more, then still more. Maybe my statement here reflects my relative naiveté at the time.

Thomas Kuhn turned things upside down as he began talking about paradigm shifts in science in books like The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. While my professors framed behavior in terms of basic learning theory, people like John Garcia and Marty Seligman – and later Kahneman and Tversky – turned the field upside down. Garcia, for example, demonstrated that some things are almost impossible to learn and others impossibly easy (if you've ever gotten sick after going to a bar, you know what I mean). People are neither automatons (as B. F. Skinner argued), nor hyper-rational decision-makers.

Why should, for example, people's estimates of the number of African countries in the United Nations predict estimates of African countries in the United Nations? It doesn't make sense, but this is what we do.

We see ourselves as rational and are blind to these errors that infect every part of our lives. As Don Redelmeier observed:

“It’s not that people think they are perfect. No, no: They can make mistakes. It’s that they don’t appreciate the extent to which they are fallible. ‘I’ve had three or four drinks. I might be 5 percent off my game.’ No! You are actually 30 percent off your game. This is the mismatch that leads to ten thousand fatal accidents in the United States every year.” (p. 346)

Lewis tells a fascinating story about friendship, too. When Tversky and Kahneman were working well together, things were wonderful, with both of them much smarter and better than they would be individually.

“I have the image of balancing precariously on the back legs of a chair and laughing so hard I nearly fell backwards.” The laughter might have sounded a bit louder when the joke had come from Amos, but that was only because Amos had a habit of laughing at his own jokes. (“He was so funny that it was okay he was laughing at his own jokes.”) In Amos’s company Danny felt funny, too—and he’d never felt that way before. In Danny’s company Amos, too, became a different person: uncritical. (p. 158).

The problem, though, is that most people don't think in terms of effective teams, but good and better. Such distinctions can undermine a relationship and the team. Lewis also described this part of their friendship.

Lewis does not just look at the main players, as science occurs in a broader context. Part of the brilliance of The Undoing Project, which is both smart and accessible (at least relative to Thinking Fast and Slow, which is accessible relative to their journal articles, which are relatively accessible for journal articles), is that he tells both the big story – Kahneman and Tversky's effects on psychology, economics, medicine, law, public health, baseball, etc. – but also the personal story. Lewis is brilliant at getting people to talk about Tversky and Kahneman, their own work, the process of science, and the beauty of collaborations – and at threading this all together into a coherent narrative.

* Kahneman and Tversky could not identify who contributed more to any single project, so alternated lead authors on papers. Thus, I'm also alternating. ☺
Profile Image for Jake.
199 reviews38 followers
February 14, 2017
“In the end, peace can be achieved only by hegemony or by balance of power.” ~ Henry Kissenger

Michael Lewis clearly has a reverence for this friendship. So do I. They are two men who brought me to thinking more probabilistically and why I chose my own academic focus. Who wouldn’t want to read about the platonic and professional love Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky shared, so strong that their wives were intensely jealous. These two men would go on to change how we think about economics, psychology, probability and public policy, by simply calling out others for their bullshit, especially those who would call themselves experts. If they shared any skill or love it was this. The relationship is a tragic one. I don’t really care for spoilers so if you do you can stop reading here. Amos Tversky dominated this partnership and other experts, due to his extroverted nature, made it possible for him to do so. This would lead to the partnerships downfall, as Danny was an introvert and had no patience for such bullshit. That Kissenger quote was in the back of my head throughout reading this book and I think it really summarizes my views on their partnership.

People are predictably irrational. It’s very tempting to say that you know something that I don’t know. It’s much harder to say that we both make mistakes and that those mistakes are predictable, transcending our wealth, education, and other demographics. If we are to improve ourselves it’s to look for leadership qualities that look to call out bullshit and are cognizant of their own bullshit, then try to replicate this. Certainty is a seductive quality in a leader. We say we want leaders who will “tell us like it is” and “never accept that their wrong.” In fact, these are the clearest signs of stupidity and it isn’t a strategy that generates success consistently. Amos and Danny knew this. In many ways they couldn’t be more opposite. They both clearly saw qualities in each other that they loved but lacked in themselves, and it produced a partnership that would change the world. Read this book to learn about that partnership.

“I had this problem. My pilots were doing weird things. We were making weird mistakes. Several times we had planes landing at the wrong airport. People weren’t dying, but it was an embarrassment to the airline. I needed to talk to someone about decision making so I brought Amos in. To this day Amos Tversky affects how we train airline pilots and other airlines have imitated our way of training. The change he suggested, was that our cockpit was this autocratic decision making environment where the pilot is a god and nobody checks him. He told us that this was the worst sort of decision making environment, and told us we needed to make it more egalitarian where the co-pilots can say stuff. We changed the culture of the cockpit in relation to Amos Tversky’s advice and those mistakes didn’t happen anymore.” ~ Jack Mar, in charge of training pilots for Delta Airlines.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,115 reviews112 followers
April 10, 2017
Michael Lewis is a great story-teller and his latest book ‘The Undoing Project’ is as good as the previous ones. This is a biography of two Israeli psychologists who had such an impact on economics that one of them – Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize. This is also a biography of the idea that people are not as rational as they think they are; moreover, their mistakes aren’t random, they are predictable and just like optical illusions even after you know you’ve been fooled you still see them.
A great book, recommended.
Profile Image for Kressel Housman.
974 reviews226 followers
December 9, 2021
I’m a big fan of Michael Lewis, so when his new book was announced, I put myself on the waiting list for it at my public library. I probably would have read anything he published, even another book about the sports business (I haven’t read any of those yet), but since it was about a pair of Israeli psychologists, I was especially intrigued. Of course, I’d heard of Daniel Kahneman’s work before, but I’d never read his famous Thinking, Fast and Slow. I got my background from other books he and his partner Amos Tversky influenced, namely Nudge, The Paradox of Choice, and Dan Ariely’s books. Since Michael Lewis was the author of this, I expected to be informed about something complex in a clear and accessible way. What I did not anticipate was that the book would touch me emotionally.

As many of you are probably aware, Kahneman and Tversky were the two psychologists whose work became the foundation of behavioral economics. Traditional economics is predicated on the belief that human beings always act in their own self-interest and make rational choices as to what would best promote that interest. Kahneman and Tversky upended that view by proving that people make irrational decisions all the time. Now, that may seem obvious to anyone who knows human beings, but once you see all the common errors they broke down, you’ll start doubting every decision you’ve ever made in your entire life.

For me, though, even more affecting was learning about the “undoing” process that gave the book its name. The book states that the most common way for people to add to their own unhappiness is by going over their lives and thinking, “If only.” Again, this may seem obvious, but I’ll bet you’re like me and you underestimate just how much you do it. I have gone so far as to begin a whole memoir to undo my bad decisions. On my very first page, I express my wish for a time machine, and I allude to a few perfect entry points in my life where I might use it. Later in the memoir, I go into more detail. But now that I’ve read this book, I’m questioning whether it’s worthwhile for me to even continue the memoir. Yes, I want to undo and redo my life, but so does everyone else, so how interesting to others can that be?

But aside from all the self-questioning the book has gotten me to do, I really grew to like Danny and Amos. I identified more with Danny, who was the less aggressive of the two. Amos was a Sabra, a native Israeli, and a hero of the Six Day War. Danny had been a victim; the Nazis killed his father, and he escaped to Israel with his mother and sister. The two different life experiences made Danny a doubter and Amos a fighter, but they complemented one another, which is what made them such an effective team.

A few warnings to my Jewish friends: Danny and Amos were not religious, and there are some anti-Zionist statements throughout the book. I can look past that, but not everyone can.

I’ll also say one thing about the ending without giving anything away. It made me tear up. And that’s a first for me and a Michael Lewis book.
Profile Image for Joel.
110 reviews49 followers
October 18, 2019
This book is very much a sequel to Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. The first chapter even continues on exactly the same vein and then, like many of his other books, turns to the main subject. It's also much more focused on the biography of the two main characters, much like The New New Thing, rather than jumping between characters.

I debated with myself whether to read this one first or Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman himself, but ultimately though this book might make a good intro to the more difficult concepts in that book. Lewis does do a good job making the concepts as easy as possible. One of the later chapters (like Chapter 6: The Mind's Rules) takes a bit of stopping and thinking, but I don't think it's beyond anyone who's willing to concentrate a bit. I also found that the book does a good job helping the reader understand the unifying theme between the earlier and later work of the two subjects. I was glad that I was actually able to understand what precisely Kahneman and Tversky's contributions were. For example, in the chapter about Prospect Theory and utility curve, I actually got that the utility curve should be s-shaped.

This is my sixth by Lewis (I read Liar's Poker, Flash Boys, The Big Short, Moneyball, The New New Thing) and it's one of his best.
Profile Image for Karen Chung.
391 reviews92 followers
September 17, 2017
I'm a big fan of Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, and cite it often in my work, so I did know something about the Kahneman-Tversky collaboration - but had no idea their friendship was this fraught. I have ended up an even bigger fan of Kahneman, but of Tversky...not so much. Sounds like he was a competitive, controlling, know-it-all smart aleck and attention hog - the kind of person I tend to avoid when I can.

I don't necessarily agree with all of the team's findings, for example, the idea that regression to the mean is the only reason for better or worse performance relative to a previous time. I believe that praise and criticism most definitely can make a difference. Praise, for example, especially if you let it go to your head, can distract you and hurt your focus, leading to poorer performance or even a major slip-up the next time.

I hadn't known about Kahneman's divorce and remarriage, and in fact am still a bit curious about it, but then marriages are never simple, and there probably wouldn't be much to be gained from trying to probe into what happened.

I also learned a lot more about life in Israel, and how ordinary citizens must constantly be ready and willing to pick up an assault rifle and put their lives on the line for their country's defense and survival. You get the feeling that there must be a better approach to dealing with your neighbors than this.

Wish it had an index so one could find things more easily, but, excellent book.
Profile Image for Conor Ahern.
660 reviews192 followers
December 2, 2017
The story of Daniel Kahneman and his erstwhile companion Amos Tversky, and their creation of the field of behavioral economics. This was informative and quirky--these guys kind of propounded all of these very provocative and innovative theories on their own!--but also very poignant and sad. I won't spoil it, but Amos really disappointed me with his calcifications toward the end. I don't know that it's fitting that Kahneman wound up winning the Nobel while Tversky did not, but hopefully it provided closure. What a marvelous and serendipitous pairing these two were!
Profile Image for Mie.
31 reviews
April 19, 2017
I enjoy a book or article that uses statistics and/or facts to cause me to ponder things from a different perspective.
Profile Image for Scott Rhee.
1,884 reviews75 followers
March 9, 2017
Michael Lewis, the author of “Moneyball” and “The Big Short” has an amazing ability to write fascinating books about subject matters that I normally find mind-numbingly boring: sports and the economy. His talent lies in the ability to find people---the outliers, the rebels, the freaks---who have a unique perspective and new ways at looking at old problems. Oftentimes, these people don’t even know they have a new perspective on something. They’ve simply asked questions that nobody ever thought to ask.

Lewis proves that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Not only that, but he also proves that if a large percentage of people in a particular field are telling you that it’s a stupid question and actively attempting to stop you from asking said question, then you’re probably on to something.

Lewis’s most recent book, “The Undoing Project”, is about the science of decision-making, and it is, of course, fascinating. Perhaps the most fascinating thing for me is that there is a science of decision-making and that there are scientists who devote their whole academic careers to this science. Who knew? Well, economists, for one. And people who study any field in which people make decisions that could have life-and-death consequences, which is anyone in medicine, politics, the military, law enforcement, and the judicial system.

Another fascinating thing? Pretty much everything we know about how our minds make decisions is based on the research and question-asking of two guys.

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky were as different as night and day. The two met in 1969 as psychology professors at Hebrew University in Israel and started a bromance that lasted almost three decades. Both men were extremely brilliant individually, but, by all accounts, their collaboration was a cosmic explosion of genius.

Collaboratively, the two published several highly influential academic papers that essentially changed the way scientists and psychologists viewed the mind and the way we make decisions.

In a nutshell (which is, honestly, the size I picture my brain when trying to read sections of Lewis’s book, which is written in as perfect a layman’s terms as one can get), the view that our mind is logic-based and rational is wishful thinking and just plain wrong. We are far more emotion-based in our decision-making than we care to admit, and our mind has ways of playing tricks on us when we think we are making rational decisions. Oftentimes, these mental tricks can have serious repercussions on our individual lives. At a macro-level, as a species, these collective mind tricks can be disastrous.

Kahneman and Tversky’s findings were, to say the least, controversial, not because they were questionable but because they flew in the face of some basic established views. Hence, why Lewis decided to write a book about them.

Kahnenman and Tversky’s bromance began to sour in later years when Tversky began receiving a bevy of awards for the work that he and Kahneman worked on together. Kahneman perhaps began to feel somewhat resentful for not being recognized for what he felt was true collaborative effort. At their peak, he and Tversky shared a brain, but only half the brain was being noticed.

Their eventual fall-out is at the climax of the book, and while it may seem like a tone-shift for Lewis to go from dry, impersonal science to heart-breaking personal relationship woes, it’s actually cleverly illustrative of the very subject that both men spent half their lives studying.

It’s strangely apropos and ironic that one of the final ideas both men were working on before Tversky’s death in 1996 was called the “undoing project”, an idea that took hold among public policy makers as a way to mitigate or prevent certain real-world problems such as car accidents caused by cell-phone use and children living below the poverty level being able to get free school lunches. It’s tragic that their own individual kinds of genius would be the cause of both their collaborative success and eventual “undoing” as friends and colleagues.

While it may seem like Lewis’s book ends on a low note, it doesn’t. In the end, the story of Kahneman and Tversky’s friendship is both inspiring and endearing.
Profile Image for Nancy Regan.
38 reviews43 followers
June 14, 2017
When Psychology strapped on its parachute and dropped into the Kingdom of Economists, most of the natives rushed off to defend Rational Man from the attack of Emotionalists. Then a curious thing happened. When they considered emotions, the Economists found Rational Man more human, more likely to behave as people actually behaved. Probabilities, utilities and even regret mattered less than did potential change from the status quo to these actors. Michael Lewis narrates how it happened in this superb biography of two outstanding thinkers who were in love with each others' ideas and a little bit with each other.

I am intuitively drawn to behavioural economics, since they turned my study of finance from a struggle to a joy. But the implications of the Kahneman and Tversky collaboration are much broader than the dismal science. National Basketball Association managers, decision-making doctors and military strategists all sharpened their game by applying the creativity of the pair's work to their own fields; Lewis lets us in on how they all saw the light.

Lewis is undoubtedly one of the very best nonfiction writers at work today, and is no mean thinker himself.
Profile Image for Jay Green.
Author 4 books237 followers
October 9, 2018
I think it's a reflection of how much behavioural economics has become part of the mainstream that the story recounted by Lewis no longer has the power to surprise that it might have had a decade ago. This is fairly run-of-the-mill stuff for anyone who's been paying attention. I for one would have liked to have seen a more extensive exploration of the concept of rationality, at the very least with regard to how it is understood by economists and psychologists, let alone philosophers. Research suggests that the "rationality" of Homo economicus is that of a sociopath, a clear red flag that either economics or our definition of rationality is askew; perhaps both. Sadly, all we are told here is that behavioural economics has revealed that humans are not as "rational" as economists had previously believed; if you thought that a sine qua non of such an assertion would be a clear understanding of rationality, you'll be surprised to learn that we're not given one here. What we have instead is a journalistic version of academic history. Such an approach worked wonderfully in Moneyball and The Big Short but misses the mark on this occasion.
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