What I’ve been reading

Blood, Sweat & Chalk: The Ultimate Football Playbook: How the Great Coaches Built Today’s Game, by Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated. This book, which covers the evolution of football through the coaches that thought up the game’s various innovations — and the circumstances in which they did so — is not without errors. There are diagrams that aren’t quite right, and technical explanations that are either incomplete or a bit off. But it more than makes up for these by capturing the mood, the milieu, the zeitgeist existing at these moments in time when football takes a step forward, particularly in the first half of the book. Football coaches are busy, practical men: as much fun as Xs and Os can be, they are a small part of what it takes to win ballgames, and can only enter the picture once the essentials (discipline, organization, and good teaching) are in place. Thus the great leaps forward — the birth of the option, innovations like the wing-t and other offenses, and the rise of the passing game and later the spread — were almost all borne of some exigency or emergency, by clever, desperate men looking for practical solutions.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson. Bryson, described by the FT as “America’s Favorite Professor” (despite being a college dropout), is of course always fascinating to read, and this effort is no different. The book’s organization is a bit jumbly — the loose superstructure is supposed to be that Bryson walks through his own home and reflects and tells stories based on what he sees — but that’s all really besides the point, as the anecdotes and trivia are all themselves entertaining.

The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home, by Dan Ariely. Not as good as Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition, Ariely’s earlier layman’s guide to behavioral economics, but, as with everything he’s written, is still well worth the read. I also recently read the similarly behavioral economics themed book, Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them: Lessons from the Life-Changing Science of Behavioral Economics. If you don’t know anything about anchoring, framing and so on, this would be an enjoyable book, but reading it felt to me like homework.

The Imperfectionists,” by Tom Rachman. I’ve yet to begin reading this, but if it’s half as good as its buzz — recommended by people as diverse as Adam Schefter and Malcolm Gladwell (then again are they that different?) — it will be well worth the effort. Also in the stack of books to be read is Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life, by Nicholas Phillipson.

  • It would be a great special feature if you were to present better rendering of Layden’s diagrams. Not to make him look bad, just to make all of us understand better.

  • patient….

    love to hear what you are reading, what happened to new football articles every week…we’ll continue to be patient

  • Homyrrh

    I was mildly put-off by the Bryson book, which I also just read recently. It was in the vein of A Short History, but while, indeed, it was rife with his markedly amusing anecdotes, etc., it mostly felt like him aimlessly tossing these, along with a list of other facts and arguably interesting trivia, at us for ~450 pp.

  • John

    I checked the Table of Contents of Layden’s book and there’s no mention of Clark Shaughnessey’s T Formation or of Dan Faurot’s Split-T. And he credits Tubby Raymond with the Wing-T which I think was a Dave Nelson creation — was that the “I” Formation? My bad if the the latter. The point being that Layden’s research — based on what I saw in the TOC — left some gaping holes in the evolution of the game.

  • I’ve always felt that it’s the scholars of a field that really care about names and dates. The rest of us mostly care about concepts. So, apparent inaccuracies aside, I think most non-experts (like me) will find Layden’s book an interesting and informative read. Following the evolution of the game through various anecdotes was a very clever approach, though I wish he focused more on the Xs and Os and put waaay more figures in the book.

    Very glad to see some new posts. Keep ’em coming! You left us hanging for a while (and during football season, no less!)