Jon Lauck, in The Lost Region: Toward a Revival of Midwestern History, p.47 (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2013): “[Allan] Bogue and other Prairie Historians expanded on this tradition of economic history by promoting the broader use of statistical and quantitative methods. Bogue said statistics were ‘like drug addiction. I realize that I am hooked, regret it periodically, but keep coming back.’” (footnotes omitted)
When we go to investigate it, we shouldn’t pre-decide what it is we’re trying to do, except to find out more about it. I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about. But I don’t have to know an answer, I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell possible.
From Daniel Kahneman, as quoted in Freeman Dyson’s review of Mario Livio’s Brilliant Blunders in the March 6, 2014 New York Review of Books: “We can’t live in a state of perpetual doubt, so we make up the best story possible and we live as if the story were true.”
As I did for 2013 and previous seasons, this is a collection of my, and only my, Total Titans posts. While Total Titans is almost all my work these days, this post all collects questions I’ve answered for other people and other related work. This post will be updated periodically, a.k.a. whenever I have time and feel like it.
2014-02-28: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: ST
2014-02-27: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: S
2014-02-24: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: CB
2014-02-20: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: MLB
2014-02-19: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: OLB
2014-02-18: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: DE
2014-02-17: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: DT
2014-02-13: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: C
2014-02-12: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: G
2014-02-11: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: OT
2014-02-10: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: TE
2014-02-07: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: WR
2014-02-06: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: FB
2014-02-05: Not a post, but I answered some questions about ex-Bills players for Buffalo Wins
2014-02-04: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: RB
2014-02-03: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positonal analysis: QB
2014-01-30: Not a post, but I answered some questions about Jim Schwartz for Buffalo Wins
2014-01-28: Tennessee Titans pick in 2014 NFL draft
2014-01-23: The 2013 Titans: Still older on offense, still young on defense
2014-01-22: Field position and the Titans defense in 2013
2014-01-21: Titans hire Ray Horton as defensive coordinator
2014-01-20: Field position and the Titans offense in 2013
2014-01-17: Titans hire Jason Michael as offensive coordinator
2014-01-17: Parsing Ken Whisenhunt’s first answers as Titans head coach
2014-01-13: Titans hire Ken Whisenhunt as new head coach
2014-01-13: 2013 Tennessee Titans Biggest Surprise: Kendall Wright
2014-01-10: 2013 Tennessee Titans Biggest Disappointment: Jake Locker
2014-01-08: Picking a Tennessee Titans rookie of the year
2014-01-06: Moving beyond Mike Munchak
2014-01-04: Titans fire Mike Munchak
2014-01-03: 2013 Tennessee Titans Defensive MVP: Jurrell Casey
2014-01-02: 2013 Tennessee Titans Offensive MVP: Kendall Wright
2014-01-01: The Jets on Locker and Ayers
Pardon the delayed nature of this post-I did the football update at the end of the calendar quarter, when I planned to do this post, then life intervened and I forgot to do this. This installment covers the books I finished in the final calendar quarter of 2013 I feel like discussing here, plus includes my 2013 favorites.
October through December was not a particularly productive reading period for me. In fact, it saw the fewest number of books I finished in a quarter since the first quarter of 2010. I managed to finish only one of the long novels I mentioned in my third quarter update, Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. Shamefully, I had pre-ordered the hardcover and yet never read it, with my earlier reading attempts deterred by the invented vocabulary. I finally made a considered effort to power through the learning curve necessary to get into the book. Once I did, I fell in love with it and made it through the 900 pages in a couple days. As with most particularly long novels, there’s a lot going on. A look at the intellectual acknowledgments page confirms this, with mathematical physics, quantum mechanics, and cognition among the areas noted. Not for everybody, but I loved it.
Significantly less difficult to get into was Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, though I suspect I would have gotten more out of it had I (a) read Hamlet in the past decade or (b) seen a live version in addition to reading the printed version. I still liked it, but I finished it feeling like I didn’t get as much out of it as I should have.
I kept waiting for Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth to abandon its potboiler status and become more of a serious novel of the literate popular fiction type. That did not happen. Were books like Eye of the Needle that much better, or was I simply that much less discerning of a reader? Probably mostly column B.
Lolita was my second Vladimir Nabokov novel, after Pale Fire, which I found quite funny at times but was mostly nonplussed by. My basic problems with Lolita were two-fold. First, I never once got over the squick factor. Three hundred-odd pages, every one of them giving me the squick feeling. Second, while the prose is well-crafted, prose without a storyline that engaged me leaves me as cold and dry as the Antarctic, and Lolita‘s story, such as it is, never once made me want to flip to the next page.
There is a fun conceit in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, and a swift pace and moderate length carried me through the rest of the book, but it ended up feeling like empty calories with an ending that didn’t make sense once I thought about it for 30 seconds. Bonus: Due to a firm sense of time and place, there’s a reasonable or better chance it will be unreadable by 2017 at the latest.
As I look back over this list of semi-notable books, all novels, I note my non-fiction reading of the quarter was concentrated on football and sport-related subjects, all of which I covered in my football update. This quarter will be different-I’ve already finished one non-sport non-fiction book more enjoyable than any such book I read last quarter 2013, and I have others on the to-read list. I have also finished Infinite Jest and may actually begin War and Peace after the Super Bowl.
Best of 2013
Brief notes, also noted in my 2012 end of year review: I try to read a balance of fiction and non-fiction. 2013 was precisely balanced, finishing the same number of fiction and non-fiction works. For my fiction reads, I tend to prefer plot-heavy narratives. Beyond minimums, literary quality is a plus but not a priority. Genre is ok-unlike some of Stephenson’s other works, Anathem is firmly, clearly, and obviously a work of science fiction. For the most part, the fiction I read suffices and clears my palate for my other reads, with few of my choices reaching or even aspiring to particularly high heights. Anathem is a clear choice as my favorite and the most interesting novel I read in 2013. Red Plenty by Francis Spufford came in second.
One of the reasons I unintentionally ended up procrastinating on this post is I had trouble coming up with a shortlist of great books I unhesitatingly recommend. There were plenty of works that came close, none of which exactly fit the bill for one reason or another. Gordon Wood’s Empire of Liberty was probably the best, but wasn’t quite as great as I thought it would be. The effect of the South Sea bubble on the characterization of English public debt in John Brewer’s Sinews of Power might have been the most amazing thing I read in 2013, but the book is not of sufficient general interest. Furies: War in Europe, 1450-1700 by Lauro Martines is a book I keep thinking about, always a good sign, but is better off as a complementary work. As I noted in my review, most of John Darwin’s Unfinished Empire is not strong enough conceptually for me. Objectively, perhaps Jean Edward Smith’s Grant was better than Empire of Liberty, but it never captivated me in the right way. The last two volumes of Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy, Day of Battle and The Guns at Last Light, were both quite good and probably belong in the top four with Smith and Wood. Tack on Chris Wickham’s The Inheritance of Rome, even though it was an awful slog at times, and that’s a reasonable top five. Certainly not a bad year, reading-wise, but the peaks just didn’t hit the right levels for me.
Aside from, of course, Football Outsiders Almanac 2013, my favorite football reads of the year were Dan Daly’s National Forgotten League and John Sayle Watterson’s College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy. Honorable mention to David Epstein’s The Sports Gene, not football but good enough I thought of it among the best books I read this year. The worst book I finished this year was probably the sloppiest of Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp novels, a series I finished out of sheer inertia and an ultimately futile hope they would at least achieve “late career but before he stopped actually doing the writing” Tom Clancy levels of craftsmanship. I only gave up on six books, half as many as in 2012, so I did not feel like I gave up on any particularly good books. You should still read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow if you have not already done so.
As always, de gustibus non est disputandum.
As I indicated in my most recent post on football-related books, I am still struggling to find a desire to spend the energy I previously spent on reviewing books to reviewing books. Thus, while I have continued to read books on football-related subjects, I have not had enough of an interest in any single book to give it a proper review. Thus, like the last post, this post will summarize the books I have read and not reviewed.
1. Tom Callahan’s Johnny U: The Life and Times of Johnny Unitas is an example of my problem with reading football books lately. It’s a perfectly fine biography of the great Colts quarterback, professionally done, and as I expressed in my review of the similar, though probably slightly better America’s Quarterback, it left me non-plussed. Read the book if you want a Unitas biography, but I have no particular recommendation (or anti-recommendation) beyond that.
2. I had higher expectations for The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian, but ultimately found it quite disappointing. First, most of the stories in the book are familiar to college football fans, especially those who pay attention to things that happen off the field. Much of the Mike Leach content, in particular, seemed to come straight out of Swing Your Sword. Second, it is very conceptually weak. Benedict and Keteyian gives us a number of chapters on aspects of college football, but never bother to tie those chapters together (beyond those on the same subject, like the couple on Leach), and reach no conclusions about their specific problems. Take, for instance, tutoring. Two particular problems arise here. First, the issue of tutors doing work for athletes. There’s a serious line-drawing problem here that can theoretically be solved with close oversight and strict enforcement of rules. Second, the issue of sexual/romantic relationships arising between tutors and athletes, a more complicated subject than I want to try to fully address in this post but one that needs to be treated with more subtlety and sophistication than I felt Benedict and Keteyian did. On the whole, this felt like a somewhat scandal-focused newsmagazine program in book form, which did not in my view make for a satisfying reading experience.
3. I loved Three and Out, but John U. Bacon’s latest, Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football I did not find as engaging. For the book, he followed the 2012 seasons of four teams-the Michigan squad he was so familiar with from his previous work, plus Northwestern, Ohio State, and Penn State. The Penn State information was the most interesting to me, simply because I hadn’t followed how exactly the 2012 season went down. From that, I got a lot of respect for Bill O’Brien in how he handled a pretty bad situation, including how he listened to his players. Importantly for me, Bacon recognizes the degree to which college football fandom is an affiliational exercise, an interesting conflict with Michigan AD Dave Brandon’s branding work, an exercise I was familiar with from reading MGoBlog. Ultimately, that’s the question-how much monetization can college football stand without becoming “just” cheaper, worse football? Tied up with this question is the Big Ten’s (arguably deeply self-conceited) idea of maintaining the traditional junction of top-flight education and top-flight athletics in the NCAA’s most prominent sport, an exercise they do not seem to be succeeding at right now outside of Columbus.
4. To interrupt a drumbeat of downer reviews, in comes David Epstein’s The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, by a clear margin the best sports book I’ve read this year. Epstein takes a sensitive subject, one that could easily have been handled badly, and handles it very, very, very well. He explains complicated research clearly, and as far as I can tell, is precisely as confident as he should be yet not more so. That’s something I try hard to stick to in my own personal work, and the current media environment seems to reward careering to extremes. Kudos to Epstein for a job very well done.
5. Congratulations, Gregg Easterbrook. The King of Sports: Football’s Impact on America is the most exasperating football-related book I’ve read since Death to the BCS. Were I in a different mental space, I might have spent several thousand works explaining why, but I will simply note (a) Easterbook would benefit from a reading of The Sports Gene, if he has not already done so (of course, he could not have done so before writing King), (b) the Virginia Tech/Frank Beamer part of the book reminded me unpleasantly of Next Man Up, and (c) reading King should be enough to convince anybody that Easterbrook’s TMQ columns (which I stopped reading a long time ago) are sincere rather than an elaborate piece of performance art. It’s really too bad, as I believe Easterbrook raises some valid concerns for valid reasons yet wrote a book I don’t recommend to anybody.
6. I believe that head injuries are very likely the most serious issue about the future of football. I believe that the NFL’s antediluvian attitude toward head injuries is a major reason we haven’t made further progress in understanding football and concussions. Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru are fine investigative reporters who’ve done their research. So why didn’t I like League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth more? A couple reasons for my nonplussage. First, as the subtitle indicates, this book is about the NFL and concussions, while I believe the NFL is actually the place where the concussion harm argument is weakest. The fewest people participate, especially for long periods of time, and they’re very well compensated (at least now). It’s in college and particularly high school where more players are putting themselves at risk, for little or no compensation, and further, the sub-concussive hits as much as the actual concussions that scare me. I can’t find the article link right now, but what really scared me for football’s future as the article on North Carolina putting accelerometers on helmets and finding terribly violent head blows in what was considered a routine practice. Second, the basics of the story were already familiar to me from this 2009 magazine piece. League of Denial supplies more detail and supplements the story with what happens since then, but the basic form of what happened was familiar to me. Third, this is in some ways a history piece. The NFL c. 2013 acknowledges concussions and cares about them a lot more than the NFL c. 2003. League of Denial is more about the NFL c. 2003, and I don’t think it advances the conversation around the NFL c. 2013 in a particularly helpful way for how best to move forward, beyond the “be cautious of the NFL, because they have a vested interest,” which I consider obvious to everyone over the age of 12 and anyone at all perspicacious enough to be interested in the issue under that mark. I should note I have not seen the associated PBS television special; it sits on my DVR and I will probably get to it eventually, but I try to leave my TV off when I’m not watching games during football season.
7. The most valuable part of Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football, Nicholas Dawidoff’s book on being embedded with the New York Jets (mostly the defense) for the 2011 season is you get a taste for what you know is out there, but you too rarely hear-the unexpurgated analysis of the NFL by NFL insiders. You can tell Dawidoff is a New Yorker writer. It’s professionally done, and if he has the right word for a certain thing, he’ll use it even if it’s not a common word; for some readers, that’s a minus. For me, it’s mostly a plus-English has many words, and there’s generally one with a more precise meaning, so use it, but just don’t overdo it to show off your fancy vocabulary. Yet, I ultimately never found Collision a fascinating or otherwise compelling read. Why so, I can’t quite say, but I recall the insights and portraiture of perhaps the best book on an NFL team-season, Bringing the Heat, as being sharper and more penetrating. It’s not a bad book by any means, but I can’t recommend it with the same strength I thought I would be able to.
Combined non-football quarterly recap and best of 2013 post coming later today.
It’s been three months (and a day!) since the last time I did one of these, which means it’s time for a new one.
Looking over my list of the non-football books I finished in the months of July, August, and September, I find it deeply unimpressive. The clear standout is Chris Wickham’s The Inheritance of Rome, the entry in the Penguin History of Europe series covering the years 400-1000. It’s a fantastic and deeply informative book, but note the monotonicity of the Amazon reviews: it is just as much of a slog as most of the reviews indicate. Wickham jams a bunch of stuff into a goodly number of pages, because a lot of stuff happens in 600 years of human history, even if your focus is limited to a single continent. Certainly not for everyone, it pushed the boundaries of what even I consider casual reading.
A surprisingly natural follow-up to Wickham was Gordon Brown’s The Norman Conquest of Southern Italy and Sicily, which I snagged in a Kindle sale a while ago but never tried getting into until last month. Brown, a retired British diplomat (and not to be confused with Tony Brown’s Chancellor of the Exchequer), is clearly and admittedly writing a popular work based on the real work done by academic historians. For my purposes, this was not a problem. The shifting and drifting political alliances of Italy in the eleventh century, between and among multiple fractions of Normans, the Papacy, the Holy Roman Empire, the Byzantines, and, oh yeah, the natives of southern Italy made for very interesting reading about a topic I knew little about. Were I looking at the current price point of $30 for a paper copy or almost $14 for the Kindle version, though, I’m sure I never would have bought this book in the first place, so I’m thankful for the sale.
I fully concur with Arch Stanton’s review of the entry in the Penguin History of Europe series that preceded Wickham’s, The Birth of Classical Europe by Simon Price and Peter Thonemann. A far cry, in terms of depth from Wickham and Tim Blanning’s marvelous The Pursuit of Glory, it is a decent high-level introduction, but I’ve read enough full-length books on the Greeks and Romans I needed more of a comprehensive tome. It is perhaps best suited as a introductory work for people who want to start serious reading, but I found it unsatisfying.
I do not know what to say about Average Is Over by Tyler Cowen, even if I were interested in giving it a detailed review here, which I am not for a number of subject matter and philosophy-related reasons. I will, however, note I agree with former acquaintance Will Baude that I can’t decide if it is utopian or dystopian.
Read at a certain time in my life, say 15-20 years ago, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning likely would have usefully accelerated and/or diverted my thinking from paths it took. Now, though, it just got me thinking of international development and the likely non-utility of measured happiness as a means of directing the best use of funds.
Sadly and contrary to the intention I expressed in my last non-football reading round-up, I did not begin, let alone finish War and Peace in July, or any of the other months I am briefly recapping here. I did dip my toe into Mikhail Bulgakov for the first time, reading both The Heart of a Dog and The Master and Margarita without enjoying either. The novel I enjoyed the most over the past quarter was a re-read (alas!) of Neal Stephenson’s Reamde, though even on a second look it was not nearly as important as Cryptonomicon. It did inspire me to finally start Anathem, which I have long avoided. If I manage to finish that plus at least one of War and Peace and Infinite Jest, I’ll consider the quarter just begun a successful one from a longer novel-reading standpoint.
My football-related reads, all of which I have reviewed on here in some way, shape or form, included Dan Daly’s National Forgotten League; John Sayle Watterson’s College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy; Football Outsiders Almanac 2013; Bill Connelly’s Study Hall; Cris Carter’s Going Deep; Ben Alamar’s Sports Analytics; Michael MacCambridge’s Lamar Hunt; and Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies by Chris Kluwe. I also acquired and use, at times and for some purposes, the 2013 version of the NFL Record and Fact Book, but decided out of a combination of sloth and lack of utility not to write a review of the latest version. I’ll make more progress on the football unread list in the current quarter, while the library should be providing me copies of some of the latest football books, including among others John U. Bacon’s Fourth and Long and The System by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian.
I’ve been reading and noting what books I write on the Internet, including on sites both now gone and private, since 2004. About eight months ago, I hit the point where I more or less stopped bothering to review, even just to fix in my own mind, the books other than those that were exceptionally good (and those I generally did not even review either, because they were good enough I remembered them). I have read lately, by which I mean in the month since I posted my most recent review, several football and football-related books, none of which inspired me to write a longer review. This post’s purpose will be to be as a brief repository of my thoughts on those books.
1. Comparing my reviews relative to the total population of football books that are published, player autobiographies may be the subset thereof I am least likely to review. Perhaps there is something in a book like Growing Up Gronk I would find informative and valuable if I were to read it, but my experience with most autobiographies is the athlete’s voice is invisible, uninteresting, or both. When I picked up a copy of Going Deep: How Wide Receivers Became the Most Compelling Figures in Pro Sports, Cris Carter’s new autobiography with Jeffri Chadiha, I was unsure I would finish it, let alone review it here.
The good news then is I read it and enjoyed it. Carter had an interesting and somewhat troubled life, forced into the supplemental draft after taking money from an agent cost him his senior season at Ohio State and spending a bit too much time in Philadelphia partying and not enough learning how to be a good NFL receiver. He eventually turned his life around in Minnesota and became both a good NFL player and a pretty solid citizen. There aren’t the sort of searing revelations of debauchery in Going Deep, but you do get a hint of the darker sides of life, including Carter’s long-time estrangement from his mother.
In the addition to the story of Carter’s life, as the subtitle suggests Going Deep is an exegesis of the transformation of the wide receiver position over the past quarter-century or so, The most interesting parts of the book are probably Carter’s comments on the star receivers of the past decade, with more direct than I expected evaluations of Larry Fitzgerald, whom he’s known since his days with the Vikings, Randy Moss, and Chad Johnson, among others. I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised, considering Carter is now a media guy, but I’m so used to all punches being pulled that anything resembling personal evaluations, even the relatively obvious like Chad Johnson got to the point where he more or less got distracted by his celebrity, becomes a pleasant surprise. The broader theme he tries to invoke, the rise of the “diva” wideout (my term rather than his), is a tougher evaluation for me; clearly, there was a period from roughly the early 1990s through the early-mid 2000s where you had players from Michael Irvin and Andre Rison through Ochocinco, but the pendulum seems to have swung backward. Plus, even in the supposed heyday you had the very good but not necessarily prominent wide receivers, like Marvin Harrison (if Harrison had an interesting personality, he hid it well as a player).
I’ve actually been sitting on Going Deep for a couple weeks before bothering to write this review, partly to decide just how good the book was. As a non-Vikings/Eagles or Carter fan, his comments on his days there and his relationship with Buddy Ryan and Dennis Green are not particularly meaningful to me. There could be interesting things I’m missing there, just because I did not follow either team or its goings-on particularly closely. While clearly a cut above most jock autobios, I would not put it with the top ones like Instant Replay. Rather, I recommend it to the already interested.
2. I enjoyed Ben Alamar’s Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, and Other Decision Makers, but the basic problem I had with it is who is its intended audience? The best answer, I think, is “people in charge of sports teams,” a group of people that does not include me. If you fit that group and are interested in thinking seriously about how to use analytics, this is probably a great book for you. The most fun I had while reading it was trying to figure out which teams and/or players he was writing about.
3. Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sports is a pleasant and expectedly well-done authorized biography of its subject by the highly reliable Michael MacCambridge.
4. Unsurprisingly, Chris Kluwe’s Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities is not really what I think of as a football book. As far as a taxonomy of books goes, it struck me as more of what I think of as a political tome, the acquisition and reading of which is an affiliational act in support of the viewpoint expressed by the author. If that describes the reasons you wish to read this book, by all means go ahead. As to me, I try to devote the time and mental energy I formerly spent on such works elsewhere.
So, I’ve been mucking around with my review of Bill Connelly’s Study Hall: College Football, Its Stats and Its Stories for about two weeks now. No, it’s not because the book sucks and I’m trying to figure out how to say it sucks without offending Bill, a colleague at Football Outsiders I may have hung out around to the point of annoyance at the 2012 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference who was kind enough to send me a review copy of his book. Those latter three things are all true (you’d have to ask Bill how annoyed he was I sat by him as we went to most, though not all, of the same panels). I noted on Twitter when I finished it I liked it. It’s just one of those books I’m having a hard time reviewing for various reasons.
The book is an overview of the modern college game, albeit from a more bloggish perspective than something like Bowls, Polls and Battered Souls, with some of the chapters adapted from previous pieces Bill had written for SB Nation. I’d read some, though perhaps not all of them, before. I had a blog-like reaction to the book, namely that I wanted to argue each and every point where he disagreed with what I thought or I didn’t think he emphasized a point enough (BCS rules being changed until pollsters realized they could manipulate the system good, not talking about the decline in inter-power conference matchups bad). Books I normally am not so engaged unless the author really annoys me (see, e.g., Death to the BCS).
The chapters about stats, including the ins and outs of Bill’s S&P+, were familiar stories to me; my first memory of Bill’s existence came from noting when he was writing FanPosts on SMQ after Matt Hinton’s move off blogspot to SB Nation and of course by that point I knew all about Football Outsiders and the like. Others not as familiar with Bill’s work or who have not spent time thinking about advanced football statistics may find portions of Bill’s book more valuable than I did. The valuable parts of it for me came from Bill’s conversations with a plethora of coaches, including Gene Stallings about his famous (on the internet) 1992 chart, Jim Grobe, and others, even if Bob Davie does like my bete noire, time of possession. Other college football writers are among those Bill interviews, and as much as I like the work of people like Chris Brown I heard too much of their voice.
One theme running through Study Hall that was part of the reason I struggled my review is the book felt like one of college football fandom. This is apparent from and strongest in the first chapter, titled “It’s Personal,” but Bill’s experience as a college football fan informs much of his work. That’s perfectly understandable and natural, but the tricky thing for me is college football tends to be a very affiliational type of fandom and I have precisely none of that when it comes to college football; I’m literally just sitting there watching a bunch of 18-to-22 (roughly) year olds play tackle football because I like watching tackle football rather than because I in any way care about the schools. It’s kind of a weird relationship between me and the college game, a bit like somebody who can’t eat ice cream touring an ice cream factory because they like food-manufacturing-I don’t get the calories, but I’m also kind of missing the whole point. Again, I’m not sure how fans of the affiliated type will respond to this running theme; I suspect better than I did.
I noticed, I think, a couple typos, nothing too serious. I was pettily and somewhat trivially annoyed by the placement of footnotes inside punctuation, a practice I’m sure some style guide recommended but which is not the norm in any of the half-dozen works of non-fiction in my reach I checked while writing this post.
In addition to Amazon, you can buy Bill’s book in PDF form at the Football Outsiders store. In addition to FO, you can find Bill’s work at Football Study Hall and SB Nation. You also can (and should) follow him on Twitter. If you want more of a taste of the content of Study Hall, read the excerpt that was posted at FO.
FTC Disclaimer: As noted in the post, I read a review (electronic) copy of Study Hall provided by the author, who is a colleague of sorts and basically the first person I have met in person whose book I have reviewed on here (excepting the various Football Outsiders Almanacs of which I have been a co-author).