Angela's Reviews > The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds

The Undoing Project by Michael   Lewis
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it was amazing
bookshelves: audiobook, econ

I can't believe my (systematically irrational) mind, but I finish this book with maximum choked-up-ness. Like, I was fighting tears on my commute in. Oh, Amos. Oh, Danny. Oh, choice architecture.

This could be put on the shelf next to Nina Munk's The Idealist (about Jeff Sachs), and Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains (about Paul Farmer): that is, a brilliantly written account (by a journalist) of a genius theory in economics/public health, and the genius-personalities behind it. In this case, we explore the foundation of behavioral economics, from the odd couple buddy movie that was the Kahneman & Tversky collaboration.

What Michael Lewis does brilliantly (as Nina Munk and Tracy Kidder also did for their subjects) is create a strong, coherent, emotional narrative: it's a biography of an incredible intellectual romance. The excitement of finding each other, the pain of their "divorce" late in the life, the tragedy of Amos's early death. Their odd couple-ness: Danny as the pessimistic, dark, sensitive one; Amos as the brilliant, funny, fiery one. It's a history of the foundation of Israel, of the end of WW2, and there are detours into the vast influence of their work: in Nate Silver-style sports analytics/moneyball, in government "nudge" units, in the movement for evidence-based medicine and acknowledging doctor fallibility.

And, of course, it's a crash course in my favorite part of grad school: subjective probability! Behavioral economics! We hear from a lot of great "2nd generation" voices: George Loewenstein, Richard Thaler, Cass Sunstein (Dan Ariely is notably absent, WHY?). It's all super inspiring and - unexpectedly - super touching. I loved hearing all the human details: Amos's incredible, eviscerating wit (the Amos-isms, omg); Danny's relatable insecurities; the hilarious cultural comparisons of economics departments versus psychology departments; that "hold your breath" moment when the Nobel Prize committee calls. Lewis also tries (and mostly succeeds) in weaving in each behavioral economics topic with how it was applying to the men themselves: when Danny starts working on "the undoing project" (exploring how people think about counterfactuals; i.e. "simulation heuristics"), it's at the same time as the relationship between him and Amos is starting to degrade. Gah, so sad!

Super recommended.

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Reading Progress

March 1, 2017 – Started Reading
March 1, 2017 – Shelved
March 6, 2017 – Finished Reading
December 7, 2017 – Shelved as: audiobook
October 23, 2018 – Shelved as: econ

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