My Favorite Books of 2012

This is a list, in no particular order, of the books I read in 2012 which I consider my favorites. This does not mean these books came out in 2012; it only means I read them this calendar year.


  • The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Not as good as Blood Meridian, but also less taxing to read — and that’s not a bad thing. Dark, troubling, and quietly brilliant.
  • Waiting for the Fall: A Decade of Dreams, Drama and West Virginia University Football, by Mike Casazza. I considered reading this something of a guilty pleasure, a kind of voyeurism into some other team’s football program. There’s nothing earth shattering in here, but it’s a very well told story about a very odd football program, featuring some very odd characters.
  • Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis. I found the first thirty or so pages of this disappointing until — suddenly — it became maybe the funniest book I’ve ever read.
  • How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, by Sarah Bakewell. Likely this is the best book I read this year. Of course I’ve read Montaigne’s essays, though it’s been some years, and as a result I put this book off thinking I’d glean little. I was wrong; this is a wonderful book, whether you’ve read the essays or you haven’t.
  • American Creation, by Joseph Ellis. I’m not sure if this should count as a 2012 book given that I read most of it over the last couple of years — the chapters are fairly discrete so I often found myself picking it up and putting it down, but not because I disliked reading it. To the contrary, I really enjoyed it, both the chapters on subjects I am pretty familiar with (like the drafting of the constitution) and less so (the circumstances surrounding the Louisiana Purchase). An excellent, easy read.
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Dan Kahneman. A shockingly good, and shockingly informative, book. It is very entertaining but not in a pop kind of way — it’s determined to report the facts, just the facts (at least to the extent we know them). The basic premise is that our way of thought can be broken down into System 1 (“fast,” intuitive) and System 2 (“slow,” logical) thinking, and more important the biases and foibles of each type. But this is not Blink; it’s thoughtful, erudite, and comprehensive. It’s not light beach reading but well worth the time. Below is a video of Kahneman discussing some of these ideas.

For more books, check out the most popular books bought by Smart Football readers. And, of course, I wrote a book this year too.

Most Popular Books Bought by Smart Football Readers in 2012

I’ve included here a breakdown of the books purchased over the last year by Smart Football readers. I get very minor referral revenues from Amazon purchases and, as a result, I am able to track which books are purchased by readers. The data is entirely anonymous but it provides, in aggregate, some interesting information.

The Most Popular Books Bought by Smart Football Readers in 2012

And below is the same chart, but excluding my book, The Essential Smart Football (which you can read more about here):

Below is the full list. Note that I simply included the top books and did not include a separate “other” category.

What I’ve been reading — Sid Gillman, David Halberstam, Narcopolis

Sid Gillman: Father of the Passing Game, by Josh Katzowitz. I’ve long extolled the virtues and importance of Sid Gillman’s role in the development of the modern passing game — and hence also football as we know it today. Katzowitz’s book does a great job profiling the mercurial Gillman, showing his development as a coach and the influence he had on his players as well as on schemes, and is an important contribution to football history of a somewhat more recent vintage. Books about football coaches tend to focus almost exclusively on the handful of men fortunate enough to win several Super Bowls or National Championship games; what makes Gillman’s life so interesting is while he didn’t exactly toil in obscurity, he still operated as something of an outsider, somewhat he transformed into a strength.

Everything They Had: Sports Writing from David Halberstam. I am not aware of whether or not this book has been out awhile, but I know it was recently released for Kindle and that’s when I picked it up. Halberstam was of course the master, quite possibly the best writer who happened to write about sports who has ever lived. This collection is somewhat uneven (it begins with pieces he published while still in college!), but many of them still resonate, as it’s remarkable how much life he breathed into simple stories about simple games. Sports are of course inherently without meaning — their entire purpose is to be a distraction from the things in life that truly matter — and yet, to effect both good and bad, sports matter to us collectively more than almost anything else in society. And what gives them meaning is both the rules of the game and the humans operating within them. In piece after piece Halberstam always seemed to push the right buttons, to reflect on sports place in the universe when appropriate and when to focus instead entirely on some human moment we all instantly understand. Plus, the guy knew how to put a sentence together.


The Essential Smart Football – Now $6.57 Paperback, $3.99 Kindle

Amazon has very aggressive pricing tactics, and they’ve slashed the prices on The Essential Smart Football — evidently to meet competing prices from Barnes & Noble — to $6.57 for paperback and $3.99 for Kindle. I’m biased, of course, but I think that’s a good deal.

Essential Smart Football

The Essential Smart Football

What I’ve been reading — Waiting for the Fall, When Saturday Mattered Most

Waiting for the Fall: A Decade of Dreams, Drama and West Virginia University Football, by Mike Casazza. West Virginia fans clearly love their football, clearly love their state, and clearly love their football team. But they don’t always love their football coaches, particularly after they’ve left, often messily, on acrimonious terms. And what unique football coaches they are. Casazza, a beat reporter for the Daily Mail, chronicles the ups, downs, and just plain weirdness in the West Virginia football program over the last several years, from the emergence of Rich Rodriguez and his nasty exit to Michigan, the appointment of Bill Stewart as his successor (partially because he was the only coach Rodriguez did not invite to go with him to Michigan), and then busted handoff that was to be the Dana Holgorsen coach-in-waiting situation. And yet over that timespan West Virginia won three BCS bowl games and countless others, and generally looks well poised for success in the future. Casazza’s book sheds light into the personalities and figures making up the drama surrounding West Virginia — which really has been as wild as any program I can think of — with humor and clarity. The book isn’t as behind-the-scenes-Rich-Rodriguez-cried-into-his-hands as John Bacon’s book on Michigan, but Casazza has watched the WVU program carefully and leaves no major turn unreported. I enjoyed the book a great deal.**

When Saturday Mattered Most

When Saturday Mattered Most: The Last Golden Season of Army Football, by Mark Beech. This book is a bit different than Casazza’s, given that it chronicles Army’s 1958 season, but has more parallels than one might have initially thought: Red Blaik, Army’s coach, like Rodriguez and Holgorsen, not only have to hold their teams together during trying circumstances, but do it with the assistance of some forward-thinking offensive schemes. But while for those WVU coaches it was (and is) the spread offense, for Blaik it was the “Lonesome Polecat.” Blaik, who had previously counted Vince Lombardi and Sid Gillman among his assistant coaches, had overcome a great deal of adversity to lead Army to an undefeated year in 1958, and I really enjoyed Beech’s telling of the tale. This is a very well-written book and is definitely a must for any football history buff; I learned a great deal.**

The Alpha Masters: Unlocking the Genius of the World’s Top Hedge Funds, by Maneet Ahuja. I give this book a definite thumbs up but note some reservations for the would-be reader. The book consists of ten or so vignettes chronicling the backgrounds of various successful hedge fund managers, like Ray Dalio, Bill Ackman, Dan Loeb, John Paulson, and so on, and in that way is completely non-linear. (Not that there’s anything wrong with non-linear books.) And the information on their actual trading strategies is of uneven quality: For some, you can get a good sense of what kinds of investments the managers like and how they go about finding and executing on those opportunities. But for others not much was conveyed; I am no closer to explaining why Ray Dalio’s fund has been so successful now than I was before I read the book. And finally, the foreward, by PIMCO’s Mohamed El-Erian, and the afterward, by Nobel winner Myron Scholes, were almost entirely useless and poorly edited. All that said, I actually really enjoyed the stories in the book because, with some exceptions, I thought the book briskly told the stories of how these managers came to operate their funds, get started, find investors, and eventually find success. Almost all of them described failing at some job early in life and having to change career directions a few times before landing in their current spot, and almost all also described starting their funds with limited capital and just hoping someone would respond. John Paulson, who made a bajillion in the 2008 subprime debacle, and who had already shifted his career gears several times before launching his own merger arbitrage focused fund, sent out cards to every single person he knew only to receive nothing in return, and started his fund with his own money and little else. These stories were told well and make the book worthwhile, but only if you enjoy this kind of subject matter. (I do.)


The Essential Smart Football is Now Available on Kindle

My new book, The Essential Smart Football, is now available on Kindle. You can click on the image below to go to the Amazon store:

The Essential Smart Football

You can read more about the book here, and it of course remains available in paperback.

*The Essential Smart Football*

That’s the title, and it’s by me. It’s available on Amazon, in paperback, and will be available in eBook form sometime in the next couple of weeks, but you can order a paperback copy today either here or here. For international readers, the book is also available on,,, and

In the next few weeks I will post additional details on the book and my process in putting it together, but it is a collection of pieces, roughly two-thirds of which consist of older works that have been expanded and professionally edited, and another one-third of which are new. If you’ve read every single thing I’ve ever written you will recognize the portion of the book that is not all new, though as I said I have expanded and edited each piece. But this book  is my considered judgment of what I think constitutes the best and most essential of my thoughts on football — The Essential Smart Football.

I chose to publish this myself for a variety of reasons, among them the evolving landscape of the publishing industry, but I still had a great deal of help — including from my loyal readers — for which I am truly thankful.

If you have any marketing inquiries, please don’t hesitate to contact me at chris [at] I truly hope everyone enjoys the book.

What I’ve been reading

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Dan Kahneman. Science described this book as Gladwell’s “Blink with muscles” and that’s a fairly accurate, if slightly simplistic, summary. Kahneman’s book is extremely interesting and consists of almost all substance, yet is also clearly written and is a very fair account of Kahneman’s work over the years. Although it’s not directly about football given that it is about the nature of thinking and how our brains work, it’s of obvious application. Much of the book centers around the tension between what Kahneman calls our “System One” and “System Two” brains. This is not quite the same thing as saying between our impulsive and rational ways of thinking, particularly because our System One thinking is more than mere impulsiveness and it is extremely remarkable in the way that it can process and filter extreme amounts of information and form them into intuitive judgments and actions. But System One thinking is not a substitute for System Two, or rational thinking, but our brains have a limited capacity for engaging in System Two thinking — in Kahneman’s terms, our brain is often simply lazy about it — and so we’re constantly going back and forth between the two, sometimes to our benefit, sometimes not so much. It’s a fascinating read and one of the best books I’ve read in some time, though if you are extremely familiar with Kahneman and his frequent collaborator Tversky’s papers, the material won’t be particularly new.

Pricing the Future: Finance, Physics, and the 300-year Journey to the Black-Scholes Equation, by George Szpiro. I’ve already once on this site discussed a book about the Black-Scholes equation, the very good Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance, so it may appear that I’m setting up some kind of cottage industry in reading books about that particular bit of financial arcana. But Szpiro’s book was actually of more general interest than the one about Fischer Black, as that one focused on Black’s life, upbringing, unique intellectual influences and fascination with the Capital Asset Pricing Model. Szpiro’s book really only builds to the Black-Scholes equation at the end, only after covering hundreds of years of mathematical history, focusing as much on Louis Bachelier, Einstein, Robert Brown and the discovery of Brownian motion, Nikolaevich Kolmogorov and the general intellectual underpinnings and history of probability theory. I enjoyed these portions of the book — though I am admittedly not a scholar of mathematics by any stretch — more than the latter chapters more specifically about finance. So I recommend it, but only for those who think they are likely to enjoy a book about the history of various mathematical characters or the development of one particular financial theory.

What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy, by Thomas Nagel.

The most popular books bought by Smart Football readers in 2011

It’s very interesting to see what books Smart Football readers purchase. I get very minor referral revenues from Amazon purchases and, as a result, I am able to track which books readers purchase. The data is totally anonymous but it provides, in aggregate, some useful data.

The 20 Most Popular Books Bought by Smart Football Readers in 2011

Below is the broken out list. I thought it was quite interesting and I am curious if anyone thinks any particular trends emerge; there are definitely a few surprises in there. Note that I only included the top 20 books in the chart above; it would’ve been too tedious to create an “Other” category.

Recommended reading, 2011 edition

I am frequently asked to recommend books for coaches or just people interested in learning more about the game. There really is no single one source — and I’m not sure there could be — but here are some suggestions of books I’ve enjoyed that tackle the strategic side of football.

Finding the Winning Edge, by Bill Walsh. The bible.

The Bunch Attack, by Andrew Coverdale and Dan Robinson. Probably my favorite passing game book of all time; don’t be scared off by the reference to the “bunch” only. Although that’s the theme, the book is really a comprehensive look at the passing game as a system, understanding defenses and coverages, protections, and how to build variations off of the passing game to make it all go. Coverdale and Robinson’s books on the quick pass game are essential as well.

2011 Offensive Line Coaches Handbook, edited by Earl Browning. all of the fancy stuff about the passing game and building a “pro-style” gameplan go out the window if you can’t block on some fundamental run plays and on pass plays, and the COOL Clinic lectures remain one of the best sources of information. I enjoyed this year’s edition, though you can find valuable information in almost all of them.

Coaching the Under Front Defense, by Jerry Gordon. There are lots of good books on defense — including the all-time classic, Coaching Team Defense by Packers legend Fritz Shurmur — but I think Gordon’s book is a great overview and introduction not only to the 4-3 Under but the concept of team defenses generally. I also found it very helpful as a reference work, as out of the various other books and materials I have I kept pulling this off the shelf to see about defending runs pulling guards, certain pass concepts, and so on.