2020 Reading List

Borrowing from the example of David Sivers’ book notes, I wanted to keep track of the books I’ve read so far this year, along with a short snippet about what I gleaned from each one.

January

There’s some carry-over from December, but I’ll count it here.

The Club: How the English Premier League Became the Wildest, Richest, Most Disruptive Force in Sports

As a soccer fan and history nerd, I really enjoyed this read. English soccer fans seem to deride American sports for their franchise systems and salary caps (among many other idiosyncrasies), but the marketing, business planning, and revenue generation transformation that the first tier of English soccer has undergone over the last 28 years seems very American, no? [Amazon]

Moneyball

The quintessential sports analytics book, albeit without much in the way of practical knowledge. Michael Lewis straddles the line between novel and non-fiction here, weaving the story of Billy Beane himself into the greater narrative of the cash-strapped Oakland Athletics of the early-00s (not to say the team isn’t still cheap) and their exploitation of market inefficiencies (now one of my favorite phrases) in baseball. Lewis argues that one can not tell the story of the As and their statistical prowess without digging into the man that encouraged them (hand over fist, at times) to embark on that journey, and I’m inclined to agree – understanding Beane’s story reveals how he thinks critically about baseball and his task at hand: finding unheralded players that were left adrift because of popular, yet outmoded, scouting and player evaluation practices. [Amazon]

The Genius of Desperation

A veritable encyclopedia of innovation in American football, exploring how the strategy of the sport has evolved as it has grown from its humble Midwestern roots into a multi-billion dollar highly-corporatized enterprise. Innovations to the game were like the ticks and tocks of a clock: offenses would change, and then defenses would scramble to change in response; then defenses would evolve, and offenses would have to scheme their way past. This constant push and pull of schematic innovation has been part of football for years, but more modern offense-supporting rules have skewed the balance in the favor of today’s quarterbacks and wide receivers. Only time will tell when the other foot will drop, allowing defenses to dominate again. [Amazon]

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work

A delightful retelling of sabermetric experimenting done by two Baseball Prospectus writers in independent league baseball in California, examining all sorts of data-driven decisions taken in a sporting setting. Compared to the 2015 Sonoma Stompers, Billy Beane was working with Scrooge McDuck’s vault – authors Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller played both general manager and baseball operations department to squeeze out the most value from a payroll mere fractions of the size of a MLB team’s and a player pool of minor-league castoffs. [Amazon]

Infomocracy

An interesting cyber-punk/near-future novel concerning election manipulation in a world organized by 100,000-person regions called “centenals” that vote for global parties (many of which you might recognize as today’s multinational corporations) to determine local governance and the world “Supermajority” (IE: a supermajority of centenals for a single party). The omnipotent “Information” service, a fusion of Amazon, Google, Wikipedia, and Facebook, provides citizens with a wide variety of services (payment, news aggregation, calls, messages, entertainment, etc) and contains a wealth of objective, meticulously fact-checked, and fastidiously organized content on said election.

I found Infomocracy to be lacking in some world-building and oddly paced. The beginning drops readers right into the narrative without a primer on the politics of the universe itself, which are difficult to understand even when explained separately. The plot didn’t really develop until well in the final fourth or fifth of the book, but then the novel wrapped up very quickly with little clarity on the new state of the book’s universe and the future of its characters. The book is certainly a timely read and one can pretty easily imagine movie action sequences built out of its climactic moments (which is one of my favorite things about these types of books), but it’s missing some narrative infrastructure. Amazon tells me that Infomocracy is just book one of a series, so maybe there’s more closure to be found in books two and three. [Amazon]

Soccernomics (World Cup 2018 Edition)

A thesis on the socioeconomics and data analysis that have shaped modern soccer. There are a number of interesting tidbits in here, including an analysis of historic relative performance (“which countries over- and under-perform in international play given their resources?”) and the Renaissance-like intellectual networks bridging together the soccer strongholds of western Europe and powering the fusion of various “national” soccer identities into an effective style of club play parroted across the continent (Said network does not include the British Isles, who continue to prefer to bully-ball their way to unsatisfying tournament finishes for both club and country – the 2018 World Cup notwithstanding). I did find Soccernomics a bit dry at points, but given that authors Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski have woven together data-driven analysis and the history of the sport, that is probably expected. The numbers, as always, tell the story. [Amazon]