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Saturday, March 21, 2009

What I've been reading

People ask me all the time what I've been reading, or what I would recommend. I'm still working on a canonical football book post, listing "must reads" for understanding the game (to be honest it's not an easy list). But I want to make this "what I've been reading" bit a semi-regular series. It will of course include both football and non-football books.

1. The Great Crash of 1929 by John Kenneth Galbraith - Wish it was less pertinent, but them's the breaks.

2. Concept Passing: Teaching the Modern Passing Game by Dan Gonzalez - An important book. I have an article with contributions from Dan that will be up on the site next week; I recommend checking out both (the article and the book).

3. The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe - Never read this -- until now -- and am pleasantly surprised how both pertinent and entertaining it is. Read the book; avoid the movie.

4. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb - Taleb is well, ascerbic, but this is an excellent and important book. I also like it better than the Black Swan, which, while good, often feels somewhat like a bloated chapter out of Fooled by Randomness.

5. Wall Street on the Tundra by Michael Lewis - An article about Iceland ("the only nation on earth that Americans could point to and say, 'Well, at least we didn’t do that.'") for Vanity Fair magazine. Great stuff.

6. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood - Not sure if it is exactly up the alley of a lot of this site's readers, but it was one of the best novel's I've read in some time. Judge Richard Posner wrote an excellent review of the book for the New Republic that can be found here.

7. Blindsided: Why the Left Tackle is Overrated and Other Contrarian Football Thoughts by KC Joyner - Eh


Gregor said...

Read the book - found his commentary interesting although I found his methodology to be pretty flawed on a lot of things.

Unknown said...

Anything more on "Blindsided"? I'm a big fan of Michael Lewis, and like every other thinking football fan I've read "Blindside." Does "Blindsided" actually make any relevant points against Lewis' book? When I flipped through it at a book store it seemed like it was the kind of commentary FJM used to take apart - based more on "gut feelings" than on the numbers.

Trader Kevin said...

About 20 years ago I was working on Wall Street and everyone on the subway was reading The Bonfire of the Vanities. I picked up a copy and was disappointed with it. Would be interesting to read it now to see if my perspective has changed.

I really liked A Man in Full, which was panned by the highbrow reviewers.

Fooled by Randomness is really good. Taleb is looking better and better with each Wall Street failure.

Wall Street on the Tundra? Dang, seems like you've been reading my reading list! That being said, I'll read pretty much anything by Michael Lewis.

Jon said...

Blindsided was basically a collection of essays. OTTOMH, I liked KC Joyner's taxonomy of coaches. I don't really care for his rating system for players (it seems to rigidly beholden to his Adjusted Yards stats), but Sean Lahman's Pro Football Historical Abstract may be a better book pick.

Jon said...

BTW, I am currently reading these:

Four kings : Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran, and the last great era of boxing

The bottom line : observations and arguments on the sports business

Recent reads include:

The commissioners : baseball's midlife crisis

The year that changed the game : the memorable months that shaped pro football

The genius : how Bill Walsh reinvented football and created an NFL dynasty

The last commissioner : a baseball valentine

The best game ever : Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the birth of the modern NFL

I'm a sports history junkie; particularly when it comes to the business side of sports.

Anonymous said...

I read the first chapter of Joyner's "Blindsided" and I was disappointed. While I agree that left tackles are overrated in terms of salary cap allocations, I thought his analysis was really, really poor.

I was really puzzled with his analysis of run blocking. With zone blocking, cut back RBs, and draw plays without designated holes, how in the world does he know where a running play was designed to go?

And his analysis of the effectiveness of pass blocking was limited to sacks allowed. That's ridiculous. Just because QB managed to unload the ball to avoid the sack, it doesn't mean the blocker got the job done.

In general, he doesn't seem to have any recognition of all the different ways that game plans, playcalling and other matchups influence a given player's performance. But this criticism applies to just about anyone trying to use Bill James' style analysis to football.


Chris said...

protocoach: stan and Jon covered some of my thoughts, but (and correct me if I'm wrong) the upshot on the left tackle being "overrated" was based on his view that Lewis had claimed that left tackles were the end-all-be-all, and that they weren't significantly more important than the other offensive linemen. Which to me missed what Lewis was saying: when I read the Blindside sounded basically like Lewis was just saying that left tackles were, in fact, the second highest paid position and was not making a normative statement.

Also, the rest of the book seemed weak too: either super obvious (Bill Belichick is a good coach!), or generally not persuasive.

One issue stan: I agree that a lot of people trying to do Bill James-esque things for football is subject to not understanding the game's complexities, but Joyner seems awfully confident in his recommendations, despite their shaky foundations.

Anonymous said...

I know my selection isn't anywhere near as high brow as the others mentioned here, but you can't beat the Nike Coach of the Year clinic notes.

Although not a novel in any way, shape or form, the information in this is incredible, and it really gives you insight into your football knowledge. Think you know football? Read a 10 page article discussing how to play a 3 technique in an even front, and then realise you don't know as much as you thought you did...

Anonymous said...


I love that -- ten pages on playing a 3 technique. I'm a huge believer in coaching, game plans, playcalling -- the whole chess match. But you'll get a kick out of a true story I got from another coach.

My friend started out as a GA for a famous college coach (known for a certain offensive innovation) and went on to coach def line at several schools and won a national championship. One season when he was a GA, they had a freshman defensive lineman who was an absolute wrecking ball in the first couple of scrimmages. Dumb as a rock and no technique. He just lined up, wrecked the blocker(s), found the ball and made the play. First team offense couldn't block him. He had no idea about footwork, reading a hat, controlling his gap, squeezing the hole or anything. Just wrecked plays and made tackles.

Famous coach called his staff together and said with emphasis, "Y'all leave him alone. If I catch any of you SOBs trying to coach him up, I'll fire your ass on the spot!"

Sometimes, brilliance is knowing when to leave well enough alone.


Jon said...

Chris, I'm not sure how much Joyner has in common with Bill James. I thought that Joyner gathered his information from watching the games instead of looking purely at stats. Even Football Outsiders does this nowadays. As I said on Residual Prolixity when Tom reviewed it, the book reminds me of one of the Baseball Prospectus books from a couple of years ago (not Mind Game. Some other one.) but it is shorter and has one author.

I'm tempted to reread the book again and critique or read some Joyner at ESPN. FWIW, he doesn't strike me as smug as some Football Outsiders. After reading a number of things about sports in the 50s, I'd like to revisit his Bert Bell chapter and see if my impression of it has changed

Anonymous said...

For those of you reading Wall Street on the Tundra by Michael Lewis this should also be read:

Chris said...

Jon, how is "The best game ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the birth of the modern NFL"? I read an excerpt in the Atlantic (where the author sat down with Andy Reid to dissect the game), and while I enjoyed it, it contained some weird inaccuracies (when defenses or certain formations or strategies were invented, some other fundamental football errors). Any thoughts?

Also, I didn't mean to imply that Joyner and James are on the same level. I enjoy James particular for the reason that he focuses solely on stats: I think there's a purity to the approach. Joyner's is more of a blend, but not always in a good way. I don't dislike him or what he's doing, just wasn't particularly thrilled.

But I will point out that the entire trend of more of this kind of thing can only be good, FO included.

Jon said...

Good question about the book, Chris. I'll try and get back to you this evening.

Jon said...

That Atlantic article wasn't an excerpt, as far as I recall (I borrowed the book from the library and don't have it handy.)

I saw the game on ESPN and don't recall the single wing. From what I remember Steve Owens or Landry had invented the 4-3 by then; dropping back two lineman into linebacker positions.

My guess is that Bowden's book is up to the David Halberstam standard of historical sportswritng; largely true with some technical innacuracies.

Anonymous said...

Hey Stan,

Great story! I'm a football coach out here, and that is something that we have seen: if you have a player who catches in a strange way, don't try and change it! If it works, let it be.

I love sites like this: I'm looking at getting into coaching over in the US, and reading such interesting articles on topics I haven't been exposed to are mind blowing.