Book Review: The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

Book Review: The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

Image for postAmos TverskyImage for postDaniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky were an unlikely pair. Kahneman is moody, sometimes depressed, always willing to see the other person?s point of view and averse to conflict. Tversky was exuberant, enthusiastic, always willing to think the other person was just plain wrong and loved conflict. Yet they were one of the most productive pairs of researchers in history, writing dozens of papers together and creating the field of behavioral economics. And, according to Michael Lewis, they were more than colleagues ? they were almost lovers, although both were straight and married tow women. Very early in their relationship they decided that they could never tell who contributed more to a paper, so they would alternate the order of their names. They would sit together in a closed room for hours and their colleagues would hear them talking and laughing. What they were talking and laughing about would revolutionize psychology and, even more, economics. They discovered that people aren?t rational. Not just about things like love and friendship and so on, but about purely quantifiable decisions. For instance, most of us view a 10% chance of dying differently than a 90 % chance of surviving. If we are asked to estimate the result of 8*7*6*5*4*3*2*1 (and not given enough time to actually do the multiplication) we give different answers than if asked to multiply 1*2*3*4*5*6*7*8 (and, for most people, both estimates will be much too small). Kahneman and Tversky not only discovered many such conundrums, they also discovered rules for them. For this work, Tversky got a MacArthur ?genius?? award and Kahneman got a Nobel Prize. In emph{The Undoing Project} Lewis tells their remarkable story. In addition to giving an excellent introduction to their work in psychology and economics (few are as good as Lewis at making these fields comprehensible to the average reader) he tells the story of their friendship ? its glories and its problems.

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