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The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed the World Hardcover – 6 Dec 2016
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Michael Lewis is a brilliant writer... The Undoing Project is a masterclass in narrative non-fiction (Steven Poole Spectator)
A new book by Michael Lewis promises an absorbing story, dazzling ideas, journalistic flair and originality. He achieves this with extraordinary consistency. In The Undoing Project he has achieved it again. (Danny Finkelstein The Times)
Kahneman and Tversky's deep friendship and intellectual collaboration has arguably done as much to define our world as, say, the intertwining between Francis Crick and James Watson... Michael Lewis, with his great gift for humanising complex and abstract ideas, is exactly the storyteller Tversky and Kahneman deserve. (Tim Adams Observer)
I normally write two or three pages of notes when reviewing a book. On this occasion I scribbled six, often in high excitement. Lewis has a strong journalist's sense of a good story and the book is dotted with hundreds. He also has a feeling for pace and intensity. Although this is an easy read, nothing is wasted and everything seems to be in the right place. And what a story it is! (Bryan Appleyard Sunday Times)
Michael Lewis is perhaps my favourite writer full stop. At his best, Lewis engages both heart and brain like no author, and he tells the story of Tversky and Kahneman beautifully... the final sections will have you weeping (Robert Colvile Daily Telegraph)
Leaves you feeling cleverer (Katie Law Evening Standard)
Part biography of a friendship and part account of psychology's impact, while also taking in much of modern Israel's history, this is a fine showcase of Mr Lewis's range ... it is a story of remarkable individuals succeeding through innovative ideas ... Lewis has managed the unusual feat of interweaving psychology and the friendship between two men (Economist)
Gripping ... There is war, heroism, genius, love, loss, discovery, enduring loyalty and friendship. It is epic stuff ... Michael Lewis is one of the best non-fiction writers of our time. The writing has wit, passion and scientific credibility (Pete Lunn Irish Times)
Michael Lewis is perhaps my favourite writer full stop ... he engages both heart and brain like no other author, and he tells the story of Tversky and Kahneman beautifully (Robert Colville Telegraph)
Michael Lewis could spin gold out of any topic he chose ... his best work ... vivid, original and hard to forget (Tim Harford Financial Times)
It's good to be reminded every now and again what genius looks like (Malcolm Gladwell)
Probably the best current writer in America. (Tom Wolfe)
The kind of writer who creates his own weather system (John Lanchester)
Michael Lewis specializes in narratives about quirky individuals who zig when everyone else zags (The New York Times)
From the Inside Flap
Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky met in war-torn 1960s Israel. Both were gifted young psychology professors: Kahneman a rootless son of holocaust survivors who saw the world as a problem to be solved; Tversky a voluble, instinctual blur of energy. In this breathtaking new book, Michael Lewis tells the extraordinary story of a relationship that became a shared mind: one which created the field of behavioural economics, revolutionising everything from Big Data to medicine, from how we are governed to how we spend, from high finance to football. Kahneman and Tversky, shows Michael Lewis, helped shape the world in which we now live - and may well have changed, for good, humankind's view of its own mind.
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Top customer reviews
It tells the story of the collaboration between Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two gifted academic psychologists who have changed the way we think about rationality and decision making. It combines the biographies of the two men, a discussion of their key ideas and vignettes of other people who have been influenced by them or applied their thinking to fields ranging from sport and medicine.
Lewis contrasts their backgrounds. Kahneman grew up in constant danger in Nazi-occupied France, while Tversky was born into a pioneering and politically active family in British Palestine (later Israel). He describes their fierce intellects and contrasting temperaments – the reserved, anxious Kahneman and the charismatic, risk-taking Tversky.
The book gives you a strong sense of Israel during the early years of the state and their commitment to the country. When the Yom Kippur war breaks out and the two men are in California, they immediately head home to return to the army and active duty.
Lewis explains their ideas in a comprehensive and clear way. Their most famous work, for which Kahneman went on to win the Nobel Prize for Economics, was their debunking of the rational actor (or ‘man’) at the heart of classical economics. We all rely on heuristics (rules of thumb or gut responses) and most of the time that works well enough. But Kahneman and Tversky identified situations where these stop us making rational decisions, particularly those involving complex or statistical information. They demonstrated their ideas by using pleasingly everyday case studies, and found that even statisticians were fooled by them.
The Undoing Project is intriguing on the relationship between Kahneman and Tversky. It gives you insights into their friendship but there is a sense that their closeness was a mystery to even their closest friends and this for me is what drives the story.
Kahneman and Tversky agreed to be interviewed by Miles Shore, a psychiatrist who was studying the working methods of ‘fertile pairs’. He found that successful professional pairings are almost like happy romantic couples. They finish each other’s sentences, their intimacy leads them to exclude others, and crucially, there is a sense that their work is the result of their combined effort. They are unable to attribute the different elements to one member of the pair, their ideas arise organically from their collaboration.
Sadly, like a romantic couple, their relationship had periods of jealousy and professional rivalry and as the title suggests, estrangement.
Michael Lewis combines a serious treatment of their work with a moving human story. I actually felt bereft when I finished this book.
I received a copy of The Undoing Project from the publisher via Netgalley.
If you're looking for a discussion on JUST the theories, I think you're better served elsewhere (specifically, Thinking Fast and Slow by Kahneman). Lewis' discussion of the theories is good, but it is (clearly) not the focus of this book. Being a fan of Kahneman and Tversky, I felt like this book was just what I needed to gain some insight into their lives and understand their process - a collaboration which has had a ripple effect decades later. I enjoyed this book mainly for that. What some might consider 'tangents' of the author were actually what I bought this book to read. Moreover, I consider myself better informed about Kahneman and Tversky's work as a result of reading this - that extra context is, to me, invaluable.
I'd recommend it based on my experience, as well as my expectations going into this.