What I’ve Been Reading (Football and Not)
May and June are annually Football Outsiders Almanac writing season, so after April is devoted to draft preparation, I don’t tend to do much football reading in the second calendar quarter of any given year. Most years I read only one or two books about football during that span, reserving my reading time for books about other subjects. Most quarters, I write separate posts about my football and my non-football reading. For the second quarter, and especially considering it’s the evening of the 27th of July and I’m just getting around to writing a quarterly recap, I’ll be combining my normal separate quarterly recaps.
2Q 2015 was no exception to my normal football reading trends. The only football book I read was On the Clock: The Story of the NFL Draft by Barry Wilner and Ken Rappoport. My favorite book on the draft is Pete Williams’ The Draft. On the Clock did not come anywhere close to challenging Williams’ work for that crown, even though there is room for a work to surpass it.
For various reasons, 2Q 2015 was an unproductive quarter reading-wise even on the non-football front. I only finished 15 books, my smallest total since the first quarter of 2010. Additionally, two-thirds of those were fiction, where I trend to prefer highly narrative reads. Only two of the ten novels I read are worth mentioning, and I loved neither. Dan Simmons, who has written some books I’ve greatly enjoyed (Hyperion) and some I haven’t (Drood), ran an excerpt from the novel that became The Fifth Heart on his website a few years ago, and I found it intriguing. The final book, I found those with an interest in Henry James and/or Sherlock Holmes would probably like it much better. My James reading experience was brief, abortive, and non-recent, while I’ve never been a Holmes fan. More clever than enjoyable, though if you’re a fan of James and/or Holmes, you may find it more enjoyable than I did.
The other work of fiction is Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. This is a difficult book for me to review. Stephenson is probably my favorite (living?) novelist. I have previously said that the world is comprised of two groups of people, those who have read and enjoyed Cryptonomicon and those with whom it is probably not worth having a casual conversation. I now like Anathem almost as much, and more in some ways. I’m currently (very, very slowly) re-reading his massive The Baroque Cycle. Reviewing Seveneves as a Stephenson hardcore, it’s my least favorite book of his in the past twenty years (I wasn’t a big fan of Snow Crash, which other people love, and it’s been too long since I’ve read Zodiac). Frankly, it seemed like a bit of a waste; a much less talented, less imaginative writer than Stephenson could have written a version of Seveneves that was nearly as good, which I would not have said about his other books (seriously, who else could have written Anathem and made it good? I want to read this person). That said, even inferior, not nearly as funny as normal Stephenson is still much better than standard fare SF, so I liked it even though I found it greatly disappointing. Recommended to people who have already read better books and still need more to read, perhaps?
My non-fiction reading was nearly as lame as my fiction reading. Adam Zamoyski’s Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna is mostly about the diplomatic maneuverings leading up to the fall and the Congress. The most interesting part is the great social swirl around the Congress, something you get absolutely no sense of in the twentieth century. Were there parties at Yalta, at Potsdam, surrounding the formation of NATO, around the Rio or Kyoto Earth summits? Did the principals interact there and do any business? Was anybody sleeping with anybody else, who was also or had previously or would go on to sleep with somebody else? These people are generally absent from current histories (I haven’t read, say, MacMillan’s Paris 1919), which could be a reflection of the transition from hereditary aristocracy and monarchies to largely non-hereditary and/or democratically-elected leadership and a tendency toward shorter, more directed meetings with more frequent trips home rather than very extended, open-ended meetings where most people are around for more or less the duration. I didn’t love it enough to recommend it more generally, but I do recommend it if you have an interest in the subject. Good chapter length, too, which is often a problem in books of this sort.
I’ve loved some of Bruce Schneier’s past books. Beyond Fear and Liars and Outliers were some of my favorite reads in the years I read them. I was more skeptical about the premise of Data and Goliath. Sadly, my fears were mostly founded. The first half is a useful overview of the current age of mass surveillance; the second half is more political in nature, along the familiar lines of “what the world should be like if everybody adopted the author’s preferred policy tradeoffs.” As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve generally read more than enough of that kind of book. Intelligently discussing the counterarguments and overcoming them will make that kind of book worthwhile anyway, but Schneier acknowledges the counterarguments and didn’t handle them (Bret Stephens’ America in Retreat manages the former, but doesn’t succeed at the latter task, and I wouldn’t have bothered to finish it if it was longer than it was).
Stephen Weinberg is a distinguished physicist. My past fondness for Paul Johnson (haven’t read any of his books lately) indicates I have a fondness, or at least an openness toward whiggish history. But I still did not really enjoy To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science, Weinberg’s almost antiseptic take on moments in scientific discovery from the Greeks through Newton, at which point modern science had been discovered and Weinberg didn’t have to make any declarations that might annoy his friends. Not awful, but not as interesting as I’d hoped.
With my work on Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 pretty much done, I’m about ready to start reading about football again. Chris Brown sent me a review copy of his new book The Art of Smart Football, Alex Kirby sent me a copy of his book Every Play Revealed 2 breaking down the Pats-Seahawks Super Bowl, I’ve begun Bart Wright’s Football Revolution, there’s a whole new crop of football books coming out soon, and, hey, I’ll get to read what everybody else said in FOA2015 as well.
You should still read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow if you have not already done so.