Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review of "The Undoing Project" by Michael Lewis - A Friendship That Changed Our Minds

With the publication of "The Undoing Project," Michael Lewis has done it again; he has taken a complex and arcane topic, and made it accessible and fascinating to his readers. In this case, the topic is the unlikely friendship and collaboration between two Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. These men conducted breakthrough studies that challenged the accepted wisdom of how we make judgments in uncertain situations. Their controversial conclusions established them at the top of their field, and in essence created the new field of behavioral economics. Their work also led to a revolution in Big Data, new approaches to evidence-based medicine, and new ways of viewing government regulation. Mr. Lewis acknowledges that much of the work that he has done over the past several years would not have been possible without the insights provided by this duo of Israeli scientists.

Like most Israelis, Daniel and Amos began their careers serving in the Israeli military. They were polar opposites in terms of personality, temperament, and demeanor. Tversky was an outgoing warrior who would command every room he entered. Kahneman, who had escaped the Nazis, lived with self-doubt and was an introvert. Despite these stark differences, they were often of one mind when it came to designing and interpreting experiments. Tversky's wife, Barbara, often noted that the relationship shared with Daniel was closer in some ways than a marriage. They completed one another intellectually. In 2002, six years after Tversky's death, Kahneman received the Nobel Prize in Economics for the work that he and Tversky had done together. They could often not remember which one of the two had originated a particular idea, so they would flip a coin to decide who should get the lead credit on any paper that they would write together.

Kahneman went on to write the acclaimed book "Thinking Fast and Slow." Michael Lewis's depiction of this unique friendship and partnership serves to shed light on how long-established ideas can be overturned and updated given enough willingness to challenge accepted thinking and to do the hard work of collecting and disseminating compelling data.

This book has practical value in helping the reader to assess how he/she makes decisions in a wide variety of settings - as a consumer, a parent, an employer or employee, a policy maker, or an academic.



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