Michael Lewis, The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed the World (New York, 2016)
December is usually a slow month for posts on this blog. This was not the plan for 2016, as I have a number of quite weighty ones on the way, but I haven’t quite pulled any of them together, and it’s time to spend less time at the desk for a bit. (Also I have to set exam papers and stuff like that.) I’ve been reading an interesting book recently, though, so I will briefly mention that. The Undoing Project is the story of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two great psychologists who did pioneering work on cognitive biases, exploring and explaining why humans behave irrationally. They became extremely influential in the field of behavioural economics, for which Kahneman (in effect on behalf of them both) was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2002.
Michael Lewis is an excellent writer and I read the book keenly. We have some history: in 2004 I read his famous book Moneyball, which was beguiling enough to lure me into supporting the Oakland Athletics baseball team, something that I thoroughly regret at present. Here again he tells a remarkable story, involving Nazi oppression, the early days of the state of Israel, military service, the ups and downs of academic careers, and most of all an intense friendship that proved both fertile and painful (much more the former). Having come across their work on biases in a relatively confined way (a classic essay here, a weighty reputation there) it was good to read about it in a broader context.