Thursday 23 March 2017

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

Forty years ago, Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky wrote a series of breathtakingly original studies undoing our assumptions about the decision-making process.

Michael Lewis, author of the best-sellers The Blind Side, The Big Short, (both movies), and also Moneyball, Liar’s Poker and Flash Boys doesn't have anything left to prove, and it’s quite fun reading an author with this degree of confidence.

The story of an unlikely friendship that changed the way we think (certainly not the world) is interesting at best. The Lewis magic, which takes the interesting and explodes it into the fascinating, page-turning, breathtaking was only partially in operation here. I thoroughly enjoyed the description of the friendship and collaboration between these two. Their personalities and fascinating histories came alive, and at times I felt like a fly on the wall. The sentimentality of the relationship, rich in generosity, then sad in its unravelling was poignant. I loved the way that they were better together, and the moments where their ideas fed off each other were a little magical, well-expressed. 

But Lewis missed a trick. The world these two academics cracked open is more than interesting. Apart from telling a few of their stories from their more famed papers, he defaulted to the story of the probabilistic mistake that we all make. He then explored it over and over again from different angles, but in not much more depth. I’ve read other books in this field, with way more interest, and that offered way more explanation. Behavioural finance is not difficult, and can be made far more enticing - like Misbehaving by Richard Thaler, for instance. 

Another issue I had was the opening chapter, which seems to be the author’s own reflections on his earlier work, Moneyball - which I haven't read, because I have no interest in American baseball selection criteria. I still don’t. 

Fortunately for me, this had absolutely no relevance to the rest of the book. Others may have expected differently and been disappointed.

Still worth a read if you enjoy behavioural psychology and are interested in the Kahneman and Tversky story.

3 stars


You may also enjoy Misbehaving by Richard Thaler or Flash Boys by Michael Lewis.

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