Book Review: The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis

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The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis is about two prominent Israeli psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.

I decided to read the book after watching a number of interviews where Malcolm Gladwell named him as his favourite author.

I just love everything written by Malcolm Gladwell as well as his podcast. 

So, I was super excited about Michael Lewis (and what might be in store): He’s my favourite’s favourite! 

I’m happy to say his book is every bit I expected.

On balance though, I find the writing style by Malcolm Gladwell easier and more engaging.

His books, I’d finish in 2 or 3 days.

This book The Undoing took far longer.

Getting Into It

The first chapter titled Man Boobs, though interesting, made me question briefly whether I chose the right book.

I knew it’s about two psychologists so I knew the first chapter was laying the foundation in the context of understanding judgement and decision making.

The field explored in depth by these psychologists.

But I found it hard to get into basketball references in it, mostly because I’m not familiar with (or interested in) this particular sport.

Then it progresses, beginning with the childhood background of these two amazing psychologists which I found fascinating.

Living in fear of being found by the Nazis or living and fighting in the war conflict zone.

Individually, how they were like in school or how they developed an interest in psychology.

Yin and Yang

They were remarkably different people like yin and yang.

One was a pessimist, doubtful of himself, subdued, more like a loner, survivor and peace seeker. An early riser, jumping from ideas to ideas.

The other was an optimist, sure of himself, popular, warrior and fighter. Night person, zeroing in on ideas and shaping them. Whose anecdotes made me laugh out loud a couple of times.

Both shared unparalleled intellectual vigour.

They found something in the other that they lack, which led them to more than a decade long friendship and intellectual collaboration.

The way they pursued in the field, bouncing off ideas, developing a theory around them and presenting it, made me utter lots of ‘oh, I see…’.

It delighted my curiosity of the human mind, therefore, my reading experience.

The relationship between the two is described as something akin to two people in love.

Except their kinship is linked by a mind.

Intense

The way their relationship disintegrate is indeed similar to a married couple: one wanting to get out of the relationship while the other wanting to hold onto it.

Little things like whose name appears first in a research paper they have written, who’s nominated in what awards, how the world unreasonably discriminate them when the work is done with a combined effort and intelligence, why one person isn’t more forthcoming to present them in equal stance or more importantly (to the other person) doesn’t express it so during their private interactions.

How it all made the once successful relationship flounder.

And how even the best mind of the world was subject to the ups and downs of emotions we’re prone to.

Oh, and how they were in and out of being between academics and soldiers.

If the beginning of the book was lukewarm, the last couple of chapters were intense.

You can almost, through stories recounted by people close to them, hear their laughter working behind a closed door where no one but the two existed.

I’ve enjoyed following along various scenarios the author introduced which were developed by these two remarkable men.

It changed my perception and understanding of how irrational we humans are.

The Friendship, Joy, Sorrow and Pain

Overall, I was touched by the friendship, joy, sorrow and pain these two psychologists went through.

It’s hard to pick my highlights: there are too many.

Also, there’s a danger in that you’ll lose a broader understanding when you mechanically read through the highlights.

So, I thoroughly recommend you read the book especially if you’re interested in psychology.

I couldn’t help it: I cried at the end of the book.

I’m going to share only one highlight.

I get choked up every time I read this quote:

Life is a book. The fact that it was a short book doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good book. It was a very good book.
– Amos Tversky

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