Reading and Thinking Football

Football, including books thereon and idiosyncratic thinking thereabout

My 2016 Total Titans Archive

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This will be an archive of my and only my Total Titans posts, like the one I did for 2015 and previous years. It will also include links to my appearances on other sites to talk Titans, including my answers to other people’s questions and any audio hits.

2016-09-30: Not a post, but I answered questions for Steph Stradley to preview Titans-Texans
2016-09-29: Not a post, but I appeared on The Two Tone Crew podcast to talk the Titans’ offensive struggles, recap Raiders-Titans, and preview Titans-Texans (direct link: mp3 audio)

APRIL 2016
2016-04-13: Not a post, but I answered questions about Zach Brown for Buffalo Wins

MARCH 2016
2016-03-09: Not a post, but I appeared on Going For Two with Zach and Sharona to talk the Titans, giving up team blogging, and the first official day of free agency (YouTube link)
2016-03-09: Good-Bye to All That
2016-03-08: Too early thoughts on the Titans and the draft
2016-03-08: Titans to trade for DeMarco Murray
2016-03-07: Thoughts on the Titans and free agency
2016-03-04: The holes on the Titans’ depth chart heading into free agency
2016-03-02: Titans add CB Brice McCain
2016-03-01: Notes on the positional analyses

2016-02-26: 2016 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: ST
2016-02-25: 2016 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: S
2016-02-24: 2016 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: CB
2016-02-23: 2016 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: ILB
2016-02-22: 2016 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: OLB
2016-02-19: 2016 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: DL
2016-02-18: 2016 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: C
2016-02-17: 2016 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: G
2016-02-16: 2016 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: OT
2016-02-15: 2016 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: TE
2016-02-12: 2016 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: WR
2016-02-11: 2016 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: FB
2016-02-10: 2016 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: RB
2016-02-09: 2016 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: QB
2016-02-05: On the Titans’ 2016 coaching staff
2016-02-02: Why did a Titans team I thought would go 6-10 go 3-13?

2016-01-31: On Jon Robinson, Mike Mularkey, and all that
2016-01-17: Titans conclude head coaching “search” by retaining Mike Mularkey
2016-01-15: Titans announce Jon Robinson as new general manager
2016-01-07: Not a post, but I appeared on SI’s On the Clock podcast to talk about the Titans’ options with the first overall pick
2016-01-05: Tennessee Titans picks in 2016 NFL draft
2016-01-04: Titans part with Ruston Webster
2016-01-04: Tennessee Titans 2015 Week 17 Snap Report
2016-01-03: Titans clinch #1 pick by losing to Colts, 30-24, after comeback fails
2016-01-03: Titans-Colts inactives, gameday notes of uncaring
2016-01-02: On Ruston Webster and athletic testing

UPDATE (2017-02-21 1350 CT): Updated all these links to fix them after Total Titans website change after I quit narfed them all.

Written by Tom Gower

March 11, 2016 at 08:54

Posted in Total Titans

My 2015 Total Titans Archive

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PROGRAMMING NOTE: What I’ve read lately, football and not, for the last two quarters of 2015, plus my favorites if I can manage to pick some out, coming whenever I bother to write it.

This page is largely for my personal purposes. It’s less important than it’s been in past years, since Total Titans is largely just my work these days. But it’s more convenient for me to have all my posts on a single past, and I also link the interviews I do for other sites here as well. I want to clean out my bookmarks, thus creating this post now even though the year is done.

2015-12-28: Tennessee Titans 2015 Week 16 Snap Report
2015-12-27: Titans avoid shutout, only lose to Texans 34-6
2015-12-27: Titans-Texans inactives, gameday notes
2015-12-21: Tennessee Titans 2015 Week 15 Snap Report
2015-12-20: Mariota injured as Patriots expectedly dominate Titans
2015-12-20: Titans-Patriots inactives, gameday thread
2015-12-X: Not a post, but I appeared on Patriots Central Radio to preview Titans-Patriots
2015-12-14: Tennessee Titans 2015 Week 14 Snap Report
2015-12-13: Mariota catches TD to take headlines off Titans’ dismal performance in 30-8 loss to Jets
2015-12-13: Titans-Jets inactives, gameday thoughts
2015-12-07: Tennessee Titans 2015 Week 13 Snap Report
2015-12-06: Home losing streak ends as Titans top Jaguars 42-39 in wild affair
2015-12-06: Titans-Jaguars inactives, gameday notes

2015-11-29: Titans come back in fourth, can’t hold on, fall to Raiders, 24-21
2015-11-29: Titans-Raiders inactives, gameday thoughts
2015-11-20: Tennessee Titans 2015 Week 11 Snap Report
2015-11-19: Another bad fourth quarter costs Titans as they fall to Jaguars, 19-13
2015-11-19: Titans-Jaguars inactives, gameday thoughts
2015-11-16: Tennessee Titans 2015 Week 10 Snap Report
2015-11-15: Rough going for offense as Titans fall to Panthers, 27-10
2015-11-15: Titans-panthers inactives, gameday thoughts
2015-11-09: Tennessee Titans 2015 Week 9 Snap Report
2015-11-08: Titans top Saints in overtime thriller, 34-28
2015-11-08: Titans-Saints inactives, gameday thoughts
2015-11-04: Ken Whisenhunt was fired, so now what?
2015-11-03: Ken Whisenhunt fired
2015-11-02: Tennessee Titans 2015 Week 8 Snap Report
2015-11-01: Titans out-inept Texans, fall 20-6
2015-11-01: Titans-Texans inactives, gameday notes

2015-10-30: Not a post, but I answered questions for Steph Stradley to preview Titans-Texans
2015-10-29: Steph Stradley answers Total Titans’ questions about the Texans
2015-10-26: Tennessee Titans 2015 Week 7 Snap Report
2015-10-25: Defense strong, but offense stumbles as Titans fall to Falcons 10-7
2015-10-25: Titans-Falcons inactives, gameday notes
2015-10-19: Tennessee Titans 2015 Week 6 Snap Report
2015-10-18: Titans home woes continue with 38-10 rout by Dolphins
2015-10-18: Titans-Dolphins inactives, gameday thread
2015-10-12: Tennessee Titans 2015 Week 5 Snap Report
2015-10-11: Titans don’t convert yards to points, falls to Bills 14-13
2015-10-11: Titans-Bills inactives, pregame notes
2015-10-09: Buffalo Wins answers Total Titans’ questions about the Bills
2015-10-09: Not a post, but I answered questions for Joe of Buffalo Wins to preview Titans-Bills

2015-09-28: Tennessee Titans 2015 Week 3 Snap Report
2015-09-27: Titans recover from early deficit, blow late lead, fail to tie in 35-33 loss to Colts
2015-09-27: Titans-Colts inactives, gameday thoughts
2015-09-25: Nate Dunlevy answers Total Titans’ questions about the Colts
2015-09-25: Not a post, but I answered questions for Nate Dunlevy to preview Titans-Colts
2015-09-21: Tennessee Titans 2015 Week 2 Snap Report
2015-09-20: Titans sputter through 28-14 loss to Browns
2015-09-20: Titans-Browns inactives, preview notes
2015-09-14: Tennessee Titans 2015 Week 1 Snap Report
2015-09-13: Mariota sparkles as Titans rout Buccaneers, 42-14
2015-09-13: On the Tennessee Titans’ 2015 season
2015-09-09: More on Terrance West
2015-09-07: 2015 Tennessee Titans 53-man roster analysis
2015-09-05: Titans make cuts to reach 53-man roster limit
2015-09-04: Titans 2015 roster cutdown thread-Friday
2015-09-04: Mariota TD pass, no apparent major injuries highlight Titans fourth preseason game
2015-09-03: Tennessee Titans fourth preseason game preview
2015-09-02: 2015 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: ST
2015-09-01: 2015 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: S

2015-08-31: Tennessee Titans third preseason game review
2015-08-29: Titans look bad while losing badly to Chiefs
2015-08-28: Tennessee Titans third preseason game preview
2015-08-27: Titans 53-man roster prediction at mid-preseason
2015-08-25: 2015 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: CB
2015-08-23: In control from start to finish, Titans top Rams, 27-14
2015-08-21: 2015 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: ILB
2015-08-20: 2015 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: OLB
2015-08-18: 2015 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: DL
2015-08-17: Tennessee Titans first preseason game review
2015-08-14: Two turnovers, one TD for Mariota as Falcons top Titans, 31-24
2015-08-14: Tennessee Titans first preseason game preview
2015-08-13: Thinking about the “skill position” mix and the gameday 46
2015-08-12: 2015 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: C
2015-08-11: 2015 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: G
2015-08-10: 2015 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: OT
2015-08-07: 2015 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: TE
2015-08-06: 2015 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: WR
2015-08-05: 2015 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: FB
2015-08-04: 2015 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: RB
2015-08-03: 2015 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: QB

JULY 2015
2015-07-30: Titans 53-man roster prediction as training camp opens
2015-07-28: More on Marcus Mariota
2015-07-27: Breaking down the Titans’ 2015 UDFA signings

MAY 2015
2015-05-05: Recapping the Tennessee Titans’ 2015 draft picks
2015-05-03: Titans conclude draft with OLB Deiontrez Mount, C Andy Gallik, WR Tre McBride
2015-05-02: Titans select RB David Cobb in fifth round
2015-05-02: Titans add DL Angelo Blackson, FB Jalston Fowler in fourth round
2015-05-01: Titans select OT Jeremiah Poutasi in third round
2015-05-01: Titans trade back, select Dorial Green-Beckham
2015-05-01: Titans day 2 draft outlook

APRIL 2015
2015-04-30: Titans stand pat at #2, take Marcus Mariota
2015-04-30: My 2015 seven-round Titans mock
2015-04-30: Titans draft preview by position
2015-04-29: Breaking down the Titans’ (reported) pre-draft visits
2015-04-29: 2015 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: ST
2015-04-28: 2015 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: S
2015-04-27: 2015 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: CB
2015-04-27: 2015 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: ILB
2015-04-24: Titans add WR Hakeem Nicks
2015-04-24: 2015 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: OLB
2015-04-21: Tennessee Titans 2015 schedule announced
2015-04-14: 2015 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: DL
2015-04-13: Titans preseason schedule announced
2015-04-02: Titans notes-Stingily, Harris, Stevens

MARCH 2015
2015-03-16: Titans sign CB Perrish Cox
2015-03-14: Titans re-sign Klug, Morgan, Succop, add Fasano, Orakpo in busy day
2015-03-12: 2015 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: C
2015-03-11: Titans sign WR Harry Douglas, S Da’Norris Searcy
2015-03-10: 2015 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: G
2015-03-09: 2015 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: OT
2015-03-09: 2015 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: TE
2015-03-06: 2015 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: WR
2015-03-05: 2015 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: FB

2015-02-10: 2015 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: RB
2015-02-09: 2015 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: QB
2015-02-06: Titans release RT Michael Oher
2015-02-04: Titans hire Dick LeBeau

2015-01-27: How the Titans targeted their receivers in 2014
2015-01-21: My predicted Titans RB usage against the Titans’ actual running back usage
2015-01-20: Field position and the Titans defense in 2014
2015-01-19: Field position and the Titans offense in 2014
2015-01-16: 2014 Tennessee Titans Snap Report: Defense
2015-01-13: 2014 Tennessee Titans Snap Report: Offense
2015-01-09: 2014 Tennessee Titans Biggest Surprise: Avery Williamson
2015-01-08: 2014 Tennessee Titans Biggest Disappointment: Ken Whisenhunt
2015-01-07: 2014 Tennessee Titans Rookie of the Year: Avery Williamson
2015-01-06: 2014 Tennessee Titans Defensive MVP: Jurrell Casey
2015-01-05: 2014 Tennessee Titans Offensive MVP: Delanie Walker
2015-01-01: Tennessee Titans picks in 2015 NFL draft

Written by Tom Gower

January 2, 2016 at 21:40

Posted in Total Titans

What I’ve Been Reading (Football and Not)

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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 DraftOn 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.

Written by Tom Gower

July 27, 2015 at 22:52

What I’ve Been Reading (Non-Football)

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I read some about football. I read more about other things. I told you about the football books I read in the first quarter of 2015. Now I will tell you about some of the more interesting of the other books I finished that quarter, but not about the uninteresting ones or the ones I don’t feel like discussing.

Most of my fiction reading is unremarkable, read solely for personal enjoyment and relaxation and not sufficiently interesting to be mentioned here. In the first quarter, I finished the final two extant volumes of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. If my appetite for television dramas in a year ever exceeds the 13 hours in a season of The Americans, I could start watching Game of Thrones without fear of spoilers for current books.

There’s way too much out there to actually read, so it’s crucial to develop heuristics that help you pick and choose what to even start reading (unless you’re Tyler Cowen and you just read the first 25 pages of every book you possibly can). Explicitly didactic fiction? Normally a big no-no and a huge turn-off. Fan fiction? Apply Sturgeon’s law, then apply Sturgeon’s law again, and apply Sturgeon’s law once again for good measure. Yet I still read, and on the whole greatly enjoyed, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky. This is the most Not For Everybody, Your Mileage May Vary thing I’ve ever mentioned on here. Familiarity with the Harry Potter books is somewhere between greatly enjoyment-enhancing and absolutely essential. If you start it, and you’re not enjoying it by chapter 8-10, give up. If you love it like I did, settle in for a very long ride. Personal favorites include chapters 37, 45 (duh), and 93.

The death of Singaporean elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew got me to finally finish Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights. I’d left it sitting unread on my phone for a while since it was just a collection of clips from other things LKY had done, and when I read a book I’m preferably looking for arguments longer than a couple paragraphs at the most. I got it on a Kindle deal, and even at the $1.99 or whatever I paid for it I’m not sure it was worth it. The Singapore Story, which I read about 15 years ago, may be my favorite autobiography by a twentieth century politician, though.

As far as installments in the Penguin History of Europe go, Christendom Destroyed by Mark Greengrass ranks significantly closer to Tim Blanning’s The Pursuit of Glory and Chris Wickham’s The Inheritance of Rome than it does to The Birth of Classical Europe. While good and a fine overview, though, I would not put it on the same level as either the Blanning or Wickham and therefore recommend it only to those with an interest in the subject and not more broadly.

Of interest only to a limited audience, I mostly enjoyed James Whitman’s The Verdict of Battle, about how victory in eighteenth century warfare had legal consequences it subsequently lost. It’s not perfect-I would have liked to have seen him draw more out about why Chotusitz was necessary after Mollwitz and more generally if victories whose result was binding could be determined ex ante instead of solely ex post. Further, the eighteenth century rule seems like a better one, but its breakdown was the result of changes in political participation more broadly that on the whole I would characterize as greatly for the better. I’m fine with a book that just describes the baleful influence of Kantians and current trends among international lawyers, but I’m not sure that’s a huge audience.

I know, it’s a movie and everybody else and Peter King has already read it, but I finally got around to Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and found it as compelling a personal story as I’d read in some time even with the ultimate ending being close to the proverbial going home and buying a Buick.

I don’t have much I feel like saying about Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels by Ian Morris, other than that I enjoyed it, though not as much as Why the West Rules-For Now or War! What Is It Good For?, and the commentaries (his main essay originated as the Tanner Lecture in philosophy at Princeton) on his work are all pretty much worthless except that they give him a chance to write more about his thesis in the rebuttal section.

Written by Tom Gower

April 21, 2015 at 20:16

Posted in Non-Football Books

What I’ve Been Reading (Football)

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In the before time, in the long long ago, I read books about football and wrote reviews of them here not long after finishing them. I still read books about football from time to time, but review them periodically. This review covers the books about football I completed in the first calendar quarter of of 2015 (and it’s only April 19, this is almost timely!).

The first quarter of 2015 was not a big football book-reading time for me, as I finished only two football-related books in the quarter. The first of those was Lew Freedman’s 73-0! Bears over Redskins: The NFL’s Greatest Massacre, on Chicago’s defeat of Washington in the 1940 NFL championship game. It was a solid read, and if you’re interested in the topic it’ll do the job. Two months after finishing it, though, little has stuck with me and I did not find it of sufficient general interest to recommend it to those without a specific interest in the 1940 championship game or the Bears.

If you read enough, and broadly enough, you’ll find a book that’s comparable even to books that are different from the norm (cf my difficulty placing Houellebecq). Unfortunately, saying I saw similarities between Ram Henry’s Spurrier: How the Ball Coach Taught the South to Play Football and Mark Panek’s Gaijin Yokozuna is probably not enlightening to anyone else. Both are not quite conventional biographies, but instead combine aspects of conventional biography with a strong sense of time and place that paint a portrait of where the title subject (Steve Spurrier/Akebono, a.k.a. Chad Rowan) grew up and was shaped. If you’re looking for more of a conventional biography, the portion of the book made up of establishing this sense of time and place will probably feel excessive and maybe a bit of a waste. As was the case in Panek’s profile of Rowan’s Hawaii, I thought Henry’s profile of Spurrier’s Johnson City was very interesting and gave a better sense of who he was that a strictly conventional biography would have. I haven’t read any other biographies of Spurrier, but my sense is that there’s still room for a different in-depth biography of Spurrier that covers the time after he leaves Johnson City and before he arrives in Columbia, South Carolina in much better detail. Any comprehensive biography of Spurrier, though, would include a section on his early life that looks much like Henry’s account. Recommended to those who think it sounds interesting.

I also started buying a few books again, and on the football front acquired On the Clock by Barry Wilner and Ken Rapoport, Speed Kills: Breaking Down the Chip Kelly Offense by Alex Kirby, and Bart Wright’s Football Revolution.

Written by Tom Gower

April 19, 2015 at 23:24

Posted in Book Reviews

What I’ve Been Reading (Non-Football)

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I read some about football. I read more about other things. I told you about the football books I read in the fourth quarter of 2014. Now I will tell you about some of the more interesting of the other books I read in that quarter, but not about the uninteresting ones or the ones I don’t feel like discussing. Since that was the final quarter of 2014, this post will also cover my favorite books of 2014.

For the third consecutive year, the fourth quarter, featuring three months of the NFL season, was the least productive quarter of the year in terms of number of books read. Of course, twenty five books, fourteen novels and eleven works of non-fiction, was still a respectable total.

I am still pretending to read War and Peace, which still consists of it sitting on my coffee table while I occasionally look at it and think about reading it, rather than actually reading it. On the fiction front, I continued to progress, in my normal Kindle fits and starts, through George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and am currently part of the way through A Storm of Swords, the fourth book in the series. Reading James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet was enough to cure me of any further desire to read Ellroy; the changes made from the book to the film version of L.A. Confidential were quite judicious and made for a more satisfying experience.

Once you take out the six football reads, that leaves just five non-fiction books in three months-not many. But the minimum quality of those works was quite high. Hampton Sides’ In the Kingdom of Ice was a fascinating tale of Arctic survival (or non-survival). Plus, it’s an excuse to link to this fascinating post on Robert Falcon Scott’s failed Antarctic expedition and scurvy.

Did I spend the entire time reading How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor geeking out about Star Wars? Is that really the sort of thing I want to admit? To the former, well, yeah. To the latter, well, I’ve previous acknowledged on the Internet I was four when Return of the Jedi came out, and Return of the Jedi in 1983 to me was, is, and always will be the greatest movie of all time, which would’ve probably answered the former question for you. Is it still an enjoyable book without such geeking out? Quite possibly, but all I can tell you is I found this an interesting and satisfying read on a subject I was interested in reading about.

I generally avoid reading business books unless I feel an obligation to do so; like self-help books in general, they range from immensely valuable to completely worthless, with a very large degree of YMMV and almost all for me falling in the latter category. Popular business books in particular I rarely find satisfying because many feel like a gem of an idea that could be expressed well in a medium or short essay padded into book size. Maybe it’s just because I know of the much larger lectures they were based on, but Peter Thiel’s Zero to One was a big exception to that general rule. It really felt like a condensation of much larger ideas, and a book that could’ve been five hundred large pages into of two hundred slim ones; that I would’ve preferred the larger product did not mean that I did not enjoy reading Zero to One. Instead, it means I should really go and actually read and think about those lecture notes. On Thiel’s ideas and points of view on various subjects, I’ll simply note I find him a very interesting thinker worthy of reading and considering and leave it at that in this forum.

That I have a bit of a weakness for well-done books about innovation definitely aided in my enjoyment of Steven Johnson’s How We Got to Now, but there was more to it than that. Johnson remains an engaging writer and effective popularizer, and this was probably my favorite of his books. Most importantly, the inventions he told were not stories that feel like they have been over-told, at least in my reading experience. Very enjoyable book. (For the curious, I have Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators on hold at the local library and should get to it at some point in the first quarter of 2015.)

That Dan Jones’ The War of the Roses was probably the weakest non-football work of non-fiction book I read in the final quarter does not mean it was a bad book. I did feel at times there was an element of that standard history critique, of “One damned thing after another,” but (a) history is made up of actual events, and (b) books that avoid that by finding the right balance between conceptualization and events are the standouts that draw superlatives, not the norm. I was looking for a solid overview of a period of history I didn’t know much about, and this book provided exactly that.

Since I keep trying to read down the stock of unread books before buying new ones, there were no major acquisitions I have no read; my only acquired books were things like Bruce Feldman’s The QB that I already read or cheap Kindle deals and library remainder sales (James Gleick’s Chaos for $1? Sure!).

Best of 2014
Brief overview notes, also noted in my past end-of-year reviews: I try to read a balance of fiction and non-fiction. 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. For the most part, the fiction I read suffices and clears my palate for other reads, with few of my choices reaching or even aspiring to particularly high heights. Andy Weir’s The Martian has drawn a lot of praise from other people, and I enjoyed it as well, even with some first-novel raggedness. Infinite Jest, though there were long stretches of it I did not particularly enjoy, may well end up my most lasting fiction first read from 2014. Re-reading Neal Stephenson’s Anathem a year and change after I first read it was not the best use of my time, and it remains Not For Everyone, but I found it a more rewarding read the second time around.

Looking over the list of books I finished this year, it was like 2013 in that there was no single book that stands out as my clear-cut favorite of the year. Rather, there was a long list of books I thought were good and really enjoyed. That included Bill Byron’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, Robert Coram’s Boyd, Tim Blanning’s The Romantic Revolution, Ken Dryden’s The Game, Ian Morris’ War! What Is It Good For?, James Gleick’s Genius, Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb, plus the Thiel and Johnson books from the fourth quarter. Forced to narrow it down to two choices, I would go with the Morris and Gleick, though they did not quite stand out in the way I want books I declare to be the best of a given year to stand out. The longer list is the better one.

Aside from, of course, Football Outsiders Almanac 2014, my favorite football reads of the year included Roy Blount’s About Three Bricks Shy of a Load … and the Load Filled Up, Dave Revsine’s The Opening Kickoff, and Bruce Feldman’s The QB. The worst book I finished might have been Daniel Flynn’s The War on Football, though it was short enough I could speed my way through it and I probably wouldn’t have finished it had been a longer book; I only finished Steve Almond’s Against Football for similar reasons. I gave up on thirteen books, including worthy titles like Robert Gates’ Duty and Martin Meredith’s The Fortunes of Africa (and some unworthy ones as well). 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.

Written by Tom Gower

January 4, 2015 at 20:37

Posted in Non-Football Books

What I’ve Been Reading (Football)

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I continue to read books about football without any particular interest in specifically reviewing them. Thus, I have continued to write quarterly recaps of what I’ve been reading instead of individual book reviews. These are the football-related books I read in the fourth quarter of 2014.

1. I was hoping Michael Weinrib’s Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games would use the fourteen weeks of a college football season to trace its history and development. That book, if done well, could be quite interesting. This is not that book. Instead, Season uses fourteen games from college football’s history to engage in what’s really free-form riffing on college football history. Using individual games to put changes over time in perspective is a reasonable idea-I thought it worked reasonably well in The Games That Changed the Game-but when you’ve read as much about college football history as I have, Weinrib’s treatment of history doesn’t teach you anything. What’s left with Seasons if the history part is all old hat is Weinrib’s emotional takes; given I generally avoid his published articles and his style is the same, or at least similar, here, I did not find that content of value either.

2. David George Surdum’s Run to Glory and Profits: The Economic Rise of the NFL during the 1950s is certainly a book that’s Not For Everybody. It’s an academic book by a university professor economist rather than a breezy history by a working journalist. Stylistically, you have to be fine with academic writing to appreciate Run. Neither of those bothers me, and I was curious about the topic. The issue with a book like this that tries to detail the inner workings is you need data from somewhere. David Harris’ The League was able to take advantage of the disclosures made particularly in the Al Davis antitrust suits, as I recall. Surdum’s data on the financials of NFL teams from the 1950s comes from congressional hearings. And, really, it was all about TV-the NFL translated extremely well to the small screen, and the increase in TV money really powered the economic rise of the NFL. One of the themes that runs through Surdum’s book is standard economic principles applied to the NFL during the period in question, including the economic rationality of Leaugethink; it came from Pareto optimality, not the willingness of big city teams like the Giants to sacrifice their own interest. The rising tide lifted all boats-New York’s rise was just relatively smaller than it was for some other teams. If you’re interested in the subject and willing to deal with this sort of book, it’s a useful read, though some of Surdum’s “NFL follows basic economic principles” points did, at least for me, fall into the “duh” category.

3. On Steve Almond’s Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto, my general commentary is that books described as manifestos are almost never quality reads, and this book is no exception to that general observation. I concur with the general points, and conclusions, of this Amazon review.

4. Just from the title and the basic description, I did not expect to enjoy Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game, but I ended up liking Mark Edmundon’s book a fair amount. Edmundson uses his experience as an unaccomplished high school football player to write about sports more generally, the good and bad sides of football, and its role in relationships, including his with his father and with his son. Unlike Almond’s book, or Flynn’s War on Football from the other side, or Easterbrook’s King of Sports, Edmundson recognizes the duality of so much about life and how the same lessons work and can be used for both good and ill. Compare also John Ed Bradley’s It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium, which is similar in some ways but was not as satisfying to me as Edmundson’s piece.

5. Even if I were in the habit of writing more detailed reviews of individual books, I don’t think I would have written a detailed review of Bruce Feldman’s The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks. That would not reflect whether I found the book interesting, or worthwhile; it was fascinating, and I devoured it. Rather, Feldman’s book looks at you might call the QB guru industry, and the highly technique-specific training of quarterbacks, including Trent Dilfer’s work with the Elite 11 and turning high school prospects into college quarterbacks, and George Whitfield and particularly his work with Johnny Manziel and turning college prospects into NFL quarterbacks. As an analyst, this is a long way from my forte; I’m not one to improve even moderately unschooled quarterbacks in the high school games I’ve started attending the last four years. Of course, that isn’t the book you want if you’re involved in that process; The QB is the story of how people are treating that process, not an instruction manual for the process itself, which seems to be the source of some of the negative Amazon reviews. Accepting that for what it is, it’s a highly enjoyable book, and it’s easy for me to see why Feldman apparently got interest from non-sports outlets interested in the more general story of training and development contained in The QB. One of my favorite football reads this year, and Bruce’s best book.

6. How much of what’s in Nunyo Demasio’s Parcells: A Football Life is really new? I haven’t read either of Parcell’s previous autobiographies, so I can’t say how much it adds to those, but the answer does not seem to be much, certainly in the pre-2000 period of his life. About all that might be new is confirmation the Jets would likely have drafted Peyton Manning with the first overall pick had he come out in the 1997 draft, to which a Jets fan friend replied “Well duh.” Though Parcells’ name is listed first on the page, this is a third-person biography told in Demasio’s voice rather than a first-person autobiography told by Parcells. This book got me thinking about Parcells’ lasting influence on the game; he’s rightly in the Hall of Fame for his work as a head coach, but how much was there to him other than “Yeah, he was a really effective football coach”? I struggled with that question while reading this book, and I don’t have a satisfying answer, plus this is not the sort of particularly revealing (auto-)biography that is worth reading because of the candid revelations contained with it. I didn’t dislike this book; I just didn’t get that much out of it.

Best of 2014 coming when I finish it, which should probably be later today or in the next couple days.

Written by Tom Gower

January 2, 2015 at 15:37

Posted in Book Reviews