Author Michael Lewis Offers Insight to Bestsellers

By Scott Craig   |   March 15, 2022
Michael Lewis and President Gayle D. Beebe meet on stage (photography by Brad Elliott)

Bestselling author Michael Lewis shared insight into his blockbuster books such as Moneyball, The Undoing Project, and The Fifth Risk, at the 17th annual President’s Breakfast on March 4 at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort. 

Exactly two years ago, Daniel Kahneman, the subject of Lewis’ book, The Undoing Project, spoke at the breakfast on the eve of the COVID-19 shutdown. Lewis said until he wrote Moneyball, he wasn’t familiar with Kahneman’s influential work on behavioral economics and the psychology of judgment and decision-making.

“I spent a year trying to explain how a baseball team with no money was beating all the baseball teams with money,” Lewis said. “The Oakland A’s had found out that professional baseball didn’t understand the value of its employees. The employees have been doing what they’re doing pretty much the same way for 100 years. There were statistics attached to every move they made when they’re on the job, but the A’s found out there were all sorts of things distorted about each of the players.”

After being in the clubhouse and seeing the players come out of the shower naked, Lewis realized they didn’t look like professional athletes. When he asked the team’s management about this, they said Lewis was beginning to figure out how the ball club operated. The A’s were finding valuable players whose value was misidentified because of their physical appearance. “It blinds the market to the person’s value,” Lewis said. “That was the first moment I was interested in writing my book because I thought this is not baseball, this is about people who are misperceived simply because of the way they look. We move through the world misperceiving value, and the A’s were exploiting the systematic errors the human mind makes when it was engaging its judgments.”

It was a review of Moneyball in The New Yorker that said Lewis had simply written about a case study of the work done by Amos Tversky and Kahneman. Not knowing anything about them, Lewis discovered that not only did he live just a mile away from Kahneman in Berkeley, but that he had taught the son of the now late Amos Tversky while at UC Berkeley. “So, I had a connection and I walked into this story about Danny and the partnership with Tversky that has changed the world.”

Lewis explored several of his bestselling books

Kahneman and Tversky, the subjects in The Undoing Project, are two men, when together, form a magical relationship and create powerfully influential research. “They had started with the observation that people, when they move through the world, aren’t statisticians,” he says. “They aren’t calculating probabilities and their judgments are skewed in various ways. And they went about classifying all the ways the human mind has screwed up when it was making intuitive judgments. It’s a story of collaboration with people who are exploring what mistakes the human mind makes while moving through the world in really profound and resourceful ways. But what it really was, was a love story. And it was an absolute joy to get to the bottom of the love story.”

In researching for his book, The Fifth Risk, Lewis says he discovered that many government agencies had been left to ossify and decay for more than four generations. 

“In the back of my mind, [I’m wondering] what risks are going to bubble up that we’re going to mismanage because nobody’s paying attention,” he says. “In the information technology sector, there are six times more people over the age of 60 than under the age of 30 working in the Federal Row. What are they doing? Updating Wang Computers? No wonder the IRS computer system crashes. This is terrible.”

Lewis has created a podcast, Against the Rules, and is working on another book that flirts with the subject of cryptocurrency about a young character set out to make as much money as possible just so he can give it away.  

The Lead Sponsor of this year’s President’s Breakfast was Bank of the West. Gold Sponsor’s included Davies, Monica Eiler, David and Anna Grotenhuis, In Memory of Jim Haslem, HUB International Insurance Services Inc., La Arcada, Lindsay and Laurie Parton, Matt Construction, Warren and Mary Lynn Staley, Sunset and Magnolia Interior Design, and Union Bank with special thanks to Tim and Ashley Snider.


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