Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Review: The Undoing Project

The Undoing Project is a biography of the relationship between Dan Kahneman and Amos Tversky,  Kahneman, of course, was the Nobel Prize winner (and author of Thinking Fast and Slow), who together with Amos Tversky, pioneered prospect theory and many other pieces of behavioral economics. Their collaboration created a revolution in the future, and they were rightly feted with all sorts of prizes.

What's interesting about this book is that it doesn't just cover their theory, which you can do better by reading Kahneman's book. It mostly covers their relationship, the context their friendship started and was sustained by, and the eventual falling apart of their friendship, which was described by their spouses as being much worse than a divorce. The context of their lives turned out to be extremely important to their theories and the eventual persons they would become, and a shift in environment later led to their falling apart.

Academia (like any other organization, including large corporations) have a hard time with true partnership and collaboration. As a result there was a tendency in academia to favor Tversky (the more extroverted of the two) over Kahneman. A natural assumption would be that envy was what destroyed the men's partnership, the book makes a convincing case against such a simplistic view.

The subjects of the book are treated with respect, and I'm very impressed that Michael Lewis didn't try to draw any generalization from their unusually intimate collaboration. I came away from the book with much better insight into what drove them. As a bonus, the book also features Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, so you get to see what the legacy of Tversky and Kahneman are in today's world.

All in all, the book was captivating and insightful. It's the best book I've read so far this year and I highly recommend it.
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