I just finished reading The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. He’s the guy who wrote Moneyball and The Big Short, riveting books about the arcane subjects of choosing baseball players and the subprime crash of 2008. This latest book is even better. The Undoing Project is one of the best science books I have ever read. It has fascinating science as well as love, obsession, envy, triumph, failure, self-doubt, arrogance, humility and war. It’ll make a fantastic movie and might do more than even The Double Helix to explain to non-scientists how science gets done — and how it is such a human endeavor.
Ultimately the book is about the triumphs (and failings) of two scientists, Danny Kanneman and Amos Taversky, and their studies of human failings. Much wisdom emanates from them. One Taversky line particularly resonated, I guess because my frantic semester finally ended, it’s the Christmas break and sabbatical is beckoning:
The secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed. You waste years by not being able to waste hours.
I think there is something to that. My best, most creative thinking happened when I was on sabbatical or research leave, or in the early years at Penn State before fund-raising, teaching and institutional nonsense caught up. The Undoing Project is really about identifying important problems. Hyper-busyness gets in the way. New Year’s resolution: Just say no.