Author Michael Lewis on "the best two characters I've ever had as a writer"

Michael Lewis on new book

Author Michael Lewis has sold more than nine million copies of his books in the United States, and now he’s adding another to his collection.

His newest book, “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds,” was inspired by another of his bestsellers, “Moneyball,” one of three of his books to become successful movies. 

“Moneyball” chronicles the story of how a baseball executive built a winning team using data analysis instead of scouts. But he said it failed to answer a critical question.

“It was a book about how people get misjudged by markets and how their values are hard to perceive. And the misjudgment was coming from people trusting their gut instincts – ex-baseball experts – and they couldn’t always see who was a baseball player and who wasn’t,” Lewis explained on “CBS This Morning” Tuesday. “I never really go to question, ‘Why do people misjudge other people?’”

That question, Lewis explained, was answered by two Israeli psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, whose study on how memories and stereotypes could cloud people’s judgments won a Nobel prize. 

“And they described all the reasons baseball players are misvalued,” Lewis said.

The crux of his book is the unlikely relationship between the two psychologists, who he called “the best two characters I’ve ever had as a writer.”

“It’s more than friendship; it’s love,” Lewis said. “Danny said to me once when he was describing his feelings for Amos, he said, ‘You’re in love with women and all that, but with Amos, I was rapt. And he liked me more than I liked him.”

It wasn’t a romantic relationship, but as Lewis explained it, “they were with each other unlike who they were with anybody else.”

That contrasted what people who knew them would’ve expected. On the surface, they were complete opposites, and people thought “there’s no way they’d get along,” Lewis said.

Amos was painstakingly neat, with nothing but one pencil and a sheet of paper on his desk, and nothing plastered on his walls. Danny’s office was “such chaos,” Lewis said, that his secretary tied his scissors to his desk just so he wouldn’t lose them.

“But the big thing was… Amos was the most self-certain person anybody knew. He was totally sure of his own judgment and he was often right to be sure,” Lewis said.

On the contrary, Danny, a survivor of the Holocaust, was a “welter of doubt,” Lewis said.

“It’s like watching an animal trying to swallow itself whole, starting with his tail. Every time he has an idea, he becomes unsure of the idea,” Lewis said.

But Lewis said “the work they did together was so much better than anything they did separately.” It would create the field of behavioral economics, for which Danny won the Nobel Prize in 2002.

“One of the things they talk about is the way the mind thinks in stereotypes… We have some model in our mind of what the president looks like, or what a basketball player looks like…. And we match,” Lewis said. “So it’s one of the reasons markets misvalue people, is that people are thinking, ‘Does it look right?’” Lewis explained. “And often, the person who’s best for the job doesn’t look right for the job.”

Lewis gave the example of basketball player Jeremy Lin. No college teams had wanted to draft him out of high school, and NBA teams were also reluctant because they believed that he wasn’t athletic. But he proved to be “off the charts.”

“So why is it when people are just looking at him and making a judgment, basketball experts can’t see the athleticism? Jeremy said this and also the general managers said this, it’s because he was Asian -- because they hadn’t seen it before,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he was initially reluctant to approach Danny for the book, especially after Amos Tversky died in 1996. And it took a long time and many long walks for Lewis to finally convince Danny to allow him to write a book on them.

And now, Lewis said he thinks of the two men whenever he makes decisions.

“One of their big lessons is, we try to make the world feel like a more certain place than it actually is. Our mind is always doing that. We think we should’ve saw Trump coming…” Lewis said. “A lot of this is kind of unknowable or matters of probability… But in my case preserving that sense of uncertainty while you’re making decisions is really, really important, rather than needing total “