Quick Book Review - The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds

Finished The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis today. Not as good as I hoped.

The Good

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky had an amazing relationship and it was fascinating to read about. I read Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow a few years ago so I was really looking forward to this book. On top of that I’ve a couple of other books by Lewis and always enjoyed them. The parts of the book that focused on the issues that Kahneman and Tversky were finding in the way people think were the most enjoyable. Take five seconds each and give your best estimate of these two problems:

1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 x 7 x 8

Clear your mind, now try this one:

8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1

It’s obvious when they are together that you should, assuming the human brain works the way you hope it works, give the same answer. However, it doesn’t work that way. Groups given the first problem give a much smaller estimate than groups given the second problem.

Lots of interesting parts.

The Bad

Despite a lot of good, there was also a lot I didn’t like. The book felt disjointed. One chapter was about something that happened in the 70s. Then he jumped ahead and was talking about Tversky’s relationship with a doctor and a paper from the 90s. Then back to the 70s. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, but it didn’t work for Lewis in this case.

The first chapter, while interesting, had little to do with the rest of the book. The first chapter was basically basketball Moneyball. The only way it tied into the rest of the book at all was a sentence that said Tversky’s last lecture was about basketball. Felt like a reach.

I primarily read on a Kindle (I love my Paperwhite) these days, but I read the dead tree edition of this book. A nitpicky thing and maybe most books are this way, but I would prefer to have the chapter name as a running header instead of the author name. I didn’t need to see Michael Lewis’ name on every even numbered page.

Overall the book was decent, but if I had to do it over again I would probably re-read Thinking, Fast and Slow, or maybe something by Dan Ariely, or even Gerd Gigerenzer’s Calculated Risks. Gigerenzer was mentioned in the book and had a little kerfuffle with Tversky and, to a lesser extent, Kahneman. They have a different view of things, but Calculated Risks is a good book.

Verdict - 3 stars

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About Nick Howard
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