Some reading highlights from 2016

I’ve written my usual annual roundup of my non fiction reading here. My two favourites were The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis.

Whatever book he turns his hand to he seems to find something interesting to say. In this case, I was sceptical, as I felt the definitive way to read about Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky was to read Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow which is the definitive work on the research that doublehandedly changed the course of economics.

But in this case, Lewis’ book adds a huge amount. It is the story of Kahneman and Tversky, where they came from, and how their relationship worked.  As Lewis himself describes it, it is the story of a love affair – an intellectual love affair that lasted fifteen years, but didn’t survive forever.

And Messy, by Tim Harford, another one of my favourite authors; he always has an original take on his topic.

This book is much wider than his usual economics thinking, and looks at how important it is not to be neat, and how the freedom (or even the requirement) to be messy creates the most original ideas. My favourite anecdote in here among many is about MIT – the most creative part of MIT for many years was Building 20 – a squat ugly, temporary building with different disciplines jammed together because they didn’t fit anywhere else. And yet it spawned hacker culture, the first video game, Spacewar, Bose speakers, and many other inventions.

I’m probably at the neat end of the spectrum, so it is great to read a work praising the opposite. As Harford says, “messiness has too few defenders….there can sometimes be a certain magic in mess.”

I hope you find a book to interest you.