Reading and Thinking Football

Football, including books thereon and idiosyncratic thinking thereabout

What I’ve Been Reading (Non-Football)

with 6 comments

Pardon the lack of posts as of late, but I haven’t had content that fits here. The more interesting NFL things I’ve found have been team-specific and thus ended up in Football Outsiders Almanac 2013, available c. mid-July. Tidbits include Arian Foster’s success the first half of the season and lack of it the second half, Matt Schaub’s awful performance close to the end zone the last four weeks of the regular season, and the lack of success of old first-time head coaches. While writing FOA, I normally take that time off from football books, intentionally so, so Bernstein’s Football is the only, well, football book I’ve read the past quarter. That drought should soon end as I plan to tackle, among other things, Dan Daly’s National Forgotten League and John Sayle Watterson’s College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy.

As with past installments, this is not every book I finished over the past calendar quarter, merely those I feel like discussing.

The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite novels, a large and grand tale of self-improvement and revenge. The Three Musketeers was my second Alexandre Dumas work, and I did not particularly care for it. Edmond Dantes is a highly-sympathetic protagonist, wrongly imprisoned, who makes of himself what he can. The titular musketeers, Porthos, Athos, and Aramis, not to mention the actual protagonist d’Artagnan, simply made me grateful I live in the early twenty-first century rather than the seventeenth and there is no otherwise unoccupied class of gentlemen warriors eager to fight in the streets over perceived insults. That life several centuries ago could be quite awful was precisely the point Lauro Martines made in Furies, but I rather doubt it was Dumas’.

After an unenjoyable experience with Norwegian Wood, I dipped my toe into the Murakami Haruki oeuvre again with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I will likely proceed eventually to The Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World to see if Murakami can make it three strikes and he’s out to me.

The parts of me that enjoy highly narrative fluff and completing three books in the same calendar day were delighted by The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. Those parts are significant, but two months removed from the reading experience the part of me that thinks seriously about how despotic regimes should appeal to and otherwise manage their populace is much stronger and likes the books much less.

Less enjoyable even as pure narrative fluff was Inferno. I found Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code entertaining for what they were, but Dan Brown’s latest was dull. New rule I should stick to: If I’m reading a work for its narrative properties and the idea occurs to me that I should give up on it halfway through, I should immediately do so. Granted, it wasn’t nearly as bad as Deception Point. That book probably goes on my list of “top five least favorite books” along with, oh, Mein KampfThe Catcher in the Rye, John Grisham’s The Brethren, and Yeazell’s Civil Procedure.

I read An Army at Dawn, the first volume of Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy on the U.S. Army in Europe in World War II, not long after it came out. At the time, I wondered, with an entire volume on just the North African campaign, how lopsided a series would this be? After reading The Day of Battle, on Italy in 1943 through the liberation of Rome, and The Guns at Last Light, there’s no question it’s at least somewhat lopsided. Too much happened in the planning of Overlord and the march through France and Germany, plus other areas of Europe in the final year of the war, to be covered in the same level of detail without making Guns as long as the other two books combined. Organizational quibbles aside, it’s clear from all three books Atkinson is the archives nut he claims to be. All three volumes are also pretty well-written, though I suspect Day and Guns contain more uses of “canalized” than everything else I’ve read in my life combined.

Also quite good, well-researched, and admirably detailed is Jean Edward Smith’s Grant. I made a tactical error in choosing when to read this book, though, as I read it too soon after Grant’s memoirs and thus ended up reflexively skimming the Civil War sections. Smith is particularly good on Grant’s presidency, though, and makes a good case he is underrated for his service in that role.

Like Tyler Cowen, I am way past the point of “popular behavioral economics book” fatigue. His recommendation of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing notwithstanding such fatigue was on point. There’s nothing earth-shattering here, but like Cowen I actually finished it, a rarity for me of late when it comes to the genre. Really, though, time spent with this book is probably better spent (re-)reading Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.

I finally read Dominic Lieven’s Russia Against Napoleon. Take the title seriously-this is the story of Russia’s war effort from 1812 through 1814 rather than a comprehensive history of the Napoleonic Wars in those years. The perspective is thus admittedly and intentionally skewed. For what it is, it’s good. Since I haven’t read enough about the Napoleonic Wars, it wasn’t the perfect book for me. The subtitle declares it “the true story of the campaigns of War and Peace,” which means I’m now out of excuses. Tolstoy’s opus joins Daly and Watterson on the July reading to-do list.


Written by Tom Gower

June 30, 2013 at 23:54

Posted in Non-Football Books

6 Responses

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  1. I like Murakami, but I think you have to like Thomas Pynchon style destroy-the-plot narratives to get the most out of him. JMO.

    Rick Atkinson’s set is the best thing I’ve read on WW II since I read most of Churchill’s narrative when I was a kid.

    I highly recommend Dan Daly’s book. The quote he makes in his 1930s chapter, college versus pro, where in 1934 mixed zone and man was essential (remember, one year removed from the slim ball upgrade and passing rules change), is something I need to work in somewhere.

    In Slingin Sam’, the first TCU versus SMU game, features a passage that describes to me a zone blitz being used. Pass defenses weren’t as primitive back then as people thought they were.

    But by the time you get to Vince Lombardi, (VL On Football), he describes man, one pure zone (strong rotation), a cover 1, and a combo defense (couple zones and a method of double teaming). That’s it. Q is, what happened in the meantime?

    On the other hand, you have the disciples of Clark Shaughnessy, who say that George Allen made their defense simpler. (this from ’63 by Youmans and Youmans).

    So, off your subjects and I apologize in advance for asking, any proof other than this link

    that the ’63 Bears played double zone (what they called Cover 2 before the phrase Cover 2 became popular) would be appreciated, and anything you might know about Fielding Yost and his use of the short punt formation, that could be translated back to book form (as opposed to vague Internet urls) would be appreciated (I’ve read “The Big House”, and it’s not Xs and Os focused).

    Any good book style narratives about Benny Friedman would also be appreciated. If you don’t entirely understand why, Dan Daly’s chapter on the 1920s will make it pretty darned clear.

    David, of Code and Football.


    July 1, 2013 at 11:30

    • David,

      If the article you linked is to be believed, the info on Halas’s BUZ defense comes from his autobiography. The local library claims to have a copy, so I’ll pop over there later this week and check that out. It could be a gold mine or worthless.

      There’s an interesting writeup in Nelson’s Anatomy of a Game about a 1907 Yost trick play from the short punt formation, including a diagram and an extended quotation from a contemporary newspaper. I’ll fix up my scanner if that’s of any interest to you.

      On Friedman, I recall hearing good things about Murray Greenberg’s Passing Game when it came out a couple years ago but have not yet read it.

      As always, thanks for the comment.

      Tom Gower

      July 1, 2013 at 16:06

      • Turns out I bought Halas’s autobiography a few days ago, when I had an urge to know more about George Allen. BUZ seems to be a 5 zone defense ( 4 DB, one LB ) of unknown disposition. More interesting, perhaps, is this comment from Halas about the 1963 NFL Championship (p 257):

        We went into our defensive positions, five men on the line, three backing up the line, and three in the secondary. We stayed basically with that formation all afternoon.

        That is the latest time I know of a 5-3 being played in the NFL. Video could confirm this.



        July 1, 2013 at 16:25

  2. Ok, found some video of the 1963 NFL Championship and I’m a third of the way through what I can watch. I don’t see a 5-3 so far, but I do see an odd front (overshift usually) 4-3 with very tight linebackers.


    July 1, 2013 at 16:56

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