The idea for this came from Marginal Revolution. This list is based on gut, rather than deep thinking, and I will admit that I had to keep in mind that I am writing for a football audience here as I composed it. These are in no particular order, and, because the idea is “influence,” there is a tilt towards books I read when I was younger. Here is a list of 10 book, with only slight fudging:
1. The Bunch Attack: Using Compressed Formations in the Passing Game by Andrew Coverdale and Dan Robinson, and Coaching Team Defense, by Fritz Shurmur. The book by Coverdale and Robinson showed me what was possible in terms of analyzing football and building a coherent system off a set of concepts and expanding them to whatever the defense throws at you. The Shurmur book, obviously focused on the other side of the ball, showed me how to take a set of very understandable principles and to think about how they can be taught and applied over and over again.
2. The Collected Short Stories of F.Scott Fitzgerald. This one for personal reasons, but, even when the stories occasionally sag or retread old material, the sentences remain among the best you’ll ever read. Fitzgerald is best read when you’re young.
3. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis. I would expect most sports bloggers to include this one. The only sports book I truly love, and, to be honest, it’s only sort of about sports. Undoubtedly Smart Football, like Football Outsiders, Advanced NFL Stats, and many others, owe a lot to Lewis’s book, as my reaction to reading it was probably the same as many others’ (and mine was not cynical): (a) this guy can write brilliantly (I’d already read Liar’s Poker); (b) the lack of a rational, data-driven approach to sports is exactly what is wrong with it, so the book is a breath of fresh air; and (c) I want to expand on these ideas, including by applying them to footbal.? The other thing I appreciated was the intellectual history of ideas from Bill James to being used in clubhouses. This strongly influenced me, as I am generally uninterested in stats for their own sake — thus excluding most discussion — and am primarily interested in decisions and decisionmaking of all sorts, and how that can be improved.
4. The Essential Holmes: Selections from the Letters, Speeches, Judicial Opinions, and Other Writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., edited by Richard Posner. I think the man influenced me more than the book itself — the sheer largeness and breadth of his thoughts and interests is overwhelming, and his incessant skepticism leaves its impression — but the best evidence we have of the man is in these scattered writings. This also showed me that even the best thinkers can have badly flawed ideas, but also that, by implication, a reticence to share one’s ideas leads nowhere.
5. Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, by Peter Bernstein. There are other books about the importance of probability (Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets is another) but this one, by showing how innovations in thinking about probability has improved society throughout history, also shows how the ability to think probabilistically can improve your own decisions.
6. The Essential Dialogues of Plato and Plato’s Republic. I read these when I was fairly young, and, while Plato had some bizarre ideas, I still know of no other works more bound to inspire deeper thinking on the part of the reader than these.
7. Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino. Although not easy to describe or explain, I think of this novel more than any other I’ve read, especially as I age.
8. Finding the Winning Edge, by Bill Walsh. It reminds me of Richard Posner’s Economic Analysis of Law, in that in both works the author has one very large, very important idea and he applies it to everything in sight. This is intended as a compliment.
9. A Collection of Essays, by George Orwell. Several of these essays remain among the greatest I’ve ever read, and I continue to refer to them. Like Holmes, Orwell was quite pragmatic and skeptical (though Holmes believed in a Darwinian-esque version of laissez-faire while Orwell was a socialist), but Orwell’s ability to write, mock, amuse, and argue — often all at once — remain, for me, unparalleled.
10. Thus Spake Zarathustra, by Friedrich Nietzsche. Like many of the other books on this list I read this when I was young and, also like many of the other books on this list, it got me very excited about ideas and how to think about them. More than the other thinkers, however, Nietzsche appealed to my (somewhat) adolescent desire to proclaim others else wrong about a great number of things. If I did a careful analysis of my current views they would differ markedly from Nietzsche’s, but I don’t think you read his works simply so you can agree with him. For analysis of Nietzsche, I also remember reading Joan Stambaugh’s The Other Nietzsche and thinking it a excellent, but that was a number of years ago and I don’t currently have a copy of the book. (And of course there is Brian Leiter’s Nietzsche blog.)
I’m sure there are other books I have left out, but this will have to do for now. The list is also light on fiction, which is more a function of having defined the list as “influence” than it is the fact that fiction hasn’t influenced me; it’s likely that the fiction has influenced me more than non-fiction (Invisible Man comes to mind), even if that influence is tougher to pin down. You can read lists by a few others here, here, and here.
I would really like to see the lists of other bloggers, sports bloggers in particular. So I encourage others to offer similar lists. Feel free to post links to them in the comments.