Synopsis (Goodreads): Forty years ago, Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky wrote a series of breathtakingly original papers that invented the field of behavioral economics. One of the greatest partnerships in the history of science, Kahneman and Tversky’s extraordinary friendship incited a revolution in 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. In The Undoing Project, Lewis shows how their Nobel Prize–winning theory of the mind altered our perception of reality.
I finished The Undoing Project last month but delayed writing the review because it was one of those books that forces you to self-examine. It got me thinking about the friendships and relationships I have in my life that have transformed me as a person and encouraged me to grow into the person I am today.
The book itself was a fascinating exploration of the friendship and professional collaboration that took place between Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky over a span of fifteen years. Their research covered a vast amount of territory, encompassing heuristics, cognitive illusions and bias, and the debt for much of what we understand about the science of decision-making is owed to these two eminent psychologists.
Whilst I was already familiar with the work of Kahneman, having read Thinking, Fast and Slow after I heard him speak at the Hay Festival in Wales, this book was a lot more anecdotal and biographical. It provided a nice recap of many concepts that I had some familiarity with, such as confirmation basis (having a predisposed opinion and then arranging or seeing only the evidence that supports that opinion), the availability heuristic (a rule of thumb relying on most immediate examples that come to mind when evaluating a decision, concept or method) and the hindsight bias (the mind rearranging historical facts in ways that make past events feel a lot less uncertain, and a lot more predictable, than they actually were), but the main focus of the book was on how two polar opposite personalities such as Kahneman and Tversky (introvert and extrovert, slob and neat freak) drew out the best possible strengths in each other to come up with the theories that laid the foundation for behavioural economics as we know it today.
I have a background in economics, so I completely understand how difficult it can be to make science interesting. Michael Lewis does a remarkable job in illustrating how psychology and economic thinking can be applied to everyday life, while simultaneously bringing to life the personal relationship between Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman and the unique mix of factors that made it such a world-changing friendship.
I couldn’t decide which of the two psychologists I liked or identified with more. However, it was Amos that gave me one of my favourite takeaways:
“Amos was not merely an optimist. He willed himself to be an optimist because he had decided pessimism was stupid. “When you are a pessimist and the bad thing happens, you live it twice,” Amos liked to say. “Once when you worry about it and the second time when it happens.”
This is an infectious read for anyone who is interested in decision-making, behavioral economics and business. In a post from earlier this year, I had mentioned wanting to revisit Thinking, Fast and Slow, a desire that has been heightened after finishing this book.