Archive for June 16th, 2011

Book Review: Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Syzmanksi

Author: Simon Kuper and Stefan Syzmanksi
Title: Soccernomics : why England loses, why Germany and Brazil win, and why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey and even India are destined to become the kings of the world’s most popular sport
Publication Info: New York : Nation Books, c2009.
ISBN: 9781568584256

Also by the same author: Football Against the Enemy

Summary/Review: A soccer writer and an economist bring a sabermetrics/Freakonomics approach to global soccer.  Issues covered include:

  • That England based on their experience, population, and other demographics they are actually not underachievers but win more often than they should.  The authors also give some tips on how England can improve (like not playing in the physically taxing Premier League).
  • Why soccer clubs are bad businesses and should not be run as a business.
  • Secrets of the transfer market, such as the wisdom of crowds, buy players in their early 20s, sell whenever another club offers more than he’s worth, and help players to relocate and adjust to their new culture.  Olympique Lyonnais is the Moneyball club of Europe winning French titles using unconventional techniques.
  • Fans are analyzed with the devoted Nick Hornby-type fan proving a rarity (not so surprising) and the world’s most soccer-mad fans are in an unexpected nation.
  • Rankings of the most overperforming and underperforming soccer nations in the world and a glimpse at the future world soccer order.

It’s a fun book with a lot of analysis that seems to be based on  hard data – although I sometimes wonder if it’s relevant data – but I can’t quibble too much with the results.

Recommended books: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt, Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby and How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us by Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman

Author: Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman
Title: Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us
Publication Info: HighBridge Company (2011)
ISBN: 1611744881
Summary/Review: This Library Thing Early Reviewers audiobook ask what the following things have in common: listening to someone else’s cell phone conversation, Zinedine Zidane’s World Cup Final, Huntington’s chorea, Joba Chamberlain & midges, chili peppers and skunks.  They all involve annoyances, and what annoys is apparently something scientists are only beginning to study.  There’s a basic 3-step process to annoyance: 1. something is unpleasant or distracting, 2. it’s hard to predict when it will end, and 3. it’s impossible to ignore. The stories illustrating annoying things and the scientific studies are entertaining.  The authors make pleasant if not professional readers and I like that they alternate voices.  The book reads like a long episode of Radiolab and is a good bit of popular science.

Recommended books: Thumbs, Toes, and Tears: And Other Traits That Make Us Human by Chip Walter, Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, and Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness, by Alva Noë.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Once in a lifetime by Gavin Newsham

Author: Gavin Newsham
Title: Once in a lifetime : the incredible story of the New York Cosmos
Publication Info: New York : [Berkeley] : Grove Press ; Distributed by Publishers Group West, c2006.
ISBN: 9780802142887
Summary/Review: Having watched the documentary film Once in a Lifetime and read Soccer in a Football World, I continue to be obsessed with the unlikely story of the Cosmos.  An American team playing in a podunk stadium suddenly signs Pele to the biggest contract in sports’ history and goes on to become a BIG THING attraction 70,000 fans to their games.  And then the team and the league collapse.  It all seems so unlikely.  The Cosmos of course were my introduction to soccer as a young sports fan when I was too little to realize that American’s don’t like soccer.  I probably wouldn’t have liked them so much if I knew about all the back-biting and nastiness behind the scenes that Newsham goes into in this book.  It’s not all tell-all though, it’s actually fairly respectful, and even figures like the guy who dressed up as Bugs Bunny get a write-up.  Newsham also depicts the corporate power of Steve Ross and how he got Warner Communications to bankroll the team.  Ross’ investment in the video game Atari offers an interesting parallel as that company goes bust around the same time as NASL.  It’s an unbelievable story and a great story that touches my nostalgia centers, but on the other hand it’s best that this is all in the past.

Recommended books: Soccer in a football world : the story of America’s forgotten game by David Wangerin, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler,  The Bad Guys Won by Jeff Pearlman and Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests by James A. Miller
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Author:  Rebecca Skloot
Title: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2010)
ISBN:  9780307712509
Summary/Review: In 1951, a woman named Henrietta Lacks died in Baltimore due to cervical cancer.  The remarkably tenacious continued to survive and divide and become the subject of numerous medical studies known as HeLa cells.  This book is partly a science book recounting the medical advances HeLa cells have made possible. But the heart of this book is a biography of Henrietta Lacks and her family, particularly her daughter Deborah.  While medical supplies companies have made millions selling HeLa cells, Lacks’ own family have suffered many indignities and poverty, lacking even basic health care.  Skloot goes beyond typical journalistic barriers to become Deborah’s ally, helping her find out the history of her mother’s immortal cells. Skloot also examines the medical ethics surrounding the use of individual’s tissues and cells.  There are not clear answers but the book is a fascinating and heartbreaking account of medicine and American family.
Recommended books: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories by Pagan Kennedy and Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande.
Rating: ***1/2

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,139 other followers

%d bloggers like this: