Michael Lewis: Behavioural economics changed the world

Q&A: The author of the The Undoing Project on Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, and writing a Presidential manual with Obama.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 21 Mar 2017

Tell us about Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky and why you decided to write about them?

They met in war-torn 1960s Israel. Both were gifted young psychology professors: Danny a rootless son of holocaust survivors who saw the world as a problem to be solved; Amos a voluble, instinctual blur of energy. I wanted to tell the story of their unlikely friendship, which went on to become one of the greatest partnerships in science of all time. These guys developed behavioural economics, revolutionising everything from medicine and finance, to politics and sport. In a weird way, my books Moneyball and The Big Short grew out of their work. They showed how the human mind was capable of systematic misjudgement and bad decisions.

Is it a tragedy that their relationship broke down?

It was such a miracle that they got together, it's hard to feel sad that they eventually fell apart. It's a little like if someone gives you a million dollars and you're pissed they don't give you two. The world picked at their relationship and gave the MacArthur 'Genius' Award and fancy professorships to Amos but ignored Danny. You wonder how many relationships are out there that have been pulled apart because the world isn't very kind to collaborations.

Is it going to be made into a film? Who would you want to play Danny and Amos?

Lots of people are looking at it and the rights will certainly be sold. If it’s in the hands of the right film maker, it has a real shot at being a great movie.

Here’s a weird pairing: Christian Bale as Amos and Sacha Baron Cohen as Danny. Sacha is a very intelligent person, he’s got some Israeli connections and he probably understands the material very well. In his own funny way, he’d bring this stuff to life. I’ve already sent him a copy of the book.

What do you want to write about next?

I'd like to write a book with Barack Obama's help called How To Be President. It will explain how decision-making in that position, or any high office, works and teach people how to be better at it. And in the bargain, it will give an intimate sketch of Obama himself and give Trump something he can read so he doesn't blow us all up. I brought up the title with Obama two years ago and he was interested, but he's got his own memoir to write and he's a busy guy, so he may not see the point of collaborating with me.

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis is published by Allen Lane, £20

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