Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases

Daniel Kahneman

Book cover

This book is a collection of academic papers on behavioral economics. It was first published in 1982, so a reader today should approach it as a presentation of the “first wave” of this field of research, which became much more well-known over the following 30 years.

For me, the book was very hit-and-miss. Some of the papers were very engaging; others, I barely got through without falling asleep. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the ones by Kahneman and Tversky are generally among the most interesting and insightful–the guys won a Nobel for a reason. One thing that I think would have helped a great deal is if the editors (K&T + Paul Slovic) had written introductory remarks about each paper, similar to what Axelrod did in “The Complexity of Cooperation.” As it is, the papers just come one after the other, with no connecting thread other than a broad organization by category.

One thing I did really appreciate was reading some of K&T’s original work on concepts that are by now very well-known, such as the representativeness and availability heuristics. These concepts have been written about a lot in a pop-sci setting, and I think the treatment in these papers is much more nuanced than the typical presentation. My favorite essay in the book was “On the study of statistical intuitions,” by K&T. In it, they discuss some deep potential issues with the general experimental design used for the study of this topic. Among these is the existence of generally and implicitly accepted “rules of conversation” that are often violated by experimenters; broadly speaking, that one’s interlocutor will be “informative, truthful, relevant, and clear.”

For almost anyone interested in the topic, however, I would recommend first reading Kahneman’s excellent and accessible book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.”

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars