Set outside of any real sense of constant place, The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis is a nonfiction telling of how Israeli psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman went about identifying previously unrecognized patterns of systematic human irrationality. In the conventional style, Lewis imbues his telling of the revelation of that style with the real character and drama that you might expect in a highly strung, highly private, highly steeped in Israeli cultural reference that you might expect In the platonic though marriage-like relationship that these two men had.
Lewis is compelling in sharing the rules of thumb, or “heuristics,” that the human mind inserts into decision-making when confronting uncertainty. Expect to see things like “representativeness,” “anchoring,” “availability,” “halo effect,” and so forth as central themes to the somewhat heavy subject matter. In addition to words like heuristic, words like Gestalt theory or utilitarianism might scare some readers away. While the terms come up, they are not central points in an attempt to give you an academic textbook on psychology, philosophy, or medicine for that matter.
I found The Undoing Project accessible and readable. The close collaboration and ability to work together for Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, a pronounced extrovert paired with a pronounced introvert, is an understandably unique characteristic of this book. To have that pairing work with little outside understanding for the dynamics for what made the relationship work, is part of the clarity that Lewis brought out well in this book. I say that Lewis brought clarity in explaining the relationship; I’ll say that calling their relationship love might be wrong. I’ll at least say that if love is the right term, it is something in a professional, friendship-driven, almost brotherly “sharing of minds and vulnerability” kind of way.
The book gives shorter shrift to the actual subject matter of “The Undoing Project,” which I think worked for the narrative in that “undoing” failed to bear fruit for Tversky and Kahneman, though the men’s relationship came undone. It was also Tversky’s undoing that paved the way for Kahneman to come out from Tversky’s shadow.
I disagreed with the editorial decision to bring a discussion of Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game into The Undoing Project, as the content and context for using that wasn’t relevant to any of the Tversky and Kahnerman story. Disposing of the sports subject matter altogether in The Undoing Project probably would have made sense.
Given all this as preface, my rating for The Undoing Project is 3.5-stars out of five. In my opinion, many high school kids would have trouble reading along with this book.
Matt – Friday, January 6, 2017