Book of the week
The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds
by Michael Lewis (Norton, $29)
Michael Lewis’ latest best-seller isn’t his most gripping book, but it’s “one hell of a love story,” said Jennifer Senior in The New York Times. Its subject is the remarkable friendship and professional partnership that developed between two psychologists who went on to teach us all how human intuition goes predictably wrong. And though Lewis focuses primarily on the Nobel Prize–winning ideas generated by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, the most affecting passages evoke a marriage drama. Tversky and Kahneman—the Lennon and McCartney of social science— were mismatched personalities who somehow brought out the best in each other. When in Lewis’ account they grow apart, then reconcile shortly before Tversky’s 1996 death, many a reader will be “blinking back tears.”
Tversky and Kahneman are fascinating men, and that proves “both the story’s blessing and its curse,” said Stephanie Denning in Forbes.com. Though both were Israelis touched by war, they seemed unlikely partners when they met while teaching psychology at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University in the late 1960s. Tversky, the self-assured extrovert, had his early ideas openly challenged by the worrywart Kahneman—and responded by joining forces with his critic. Their work, particularly over the next decade, laid the foundation for behavioral economics and its study of the ways we humans fail to be rational in our judgments and predictions. But no matter how much the reader comes to admire Tversky and Kahneman’s academic work, “these are two extraordinary people in an ordinary situation,” and there’s only so much a writer can do with such a scenario—even a writer as brilliant as the author of Moneyball, Liar’s Poker, and The Big Short.
The Undoing Project is a fine book despite all that, said Robert Colville in The Telegraph(U.K.). If you’ve read and loved Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, you’ll already be familiar with the cognitive biases that Lewis elucidates here. Lewis’ book “works best” as a companion and complement to that 2011 best-seller, as “a case of one master being inspired by another.” Kahneman and Tversky warned against the way we can be fooled by history and biography into seeing cause and effect where there is none, but Lewis honors their work and friendship in every way possible. In our era, he “engages both heart and mind like no other author.”