What I’ve been reading

Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance, by Perry Mehrling. I was surprsed at how much I enjoyed this book. Black was a unique guy, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised I liked this book as much as I did. Indeed, in many ways it’s the perfect book for me: an intellectual history about someone who believed that the world suffered from too little theory, rather than too much (he used to say that if the evidence contradicted the theory you don’t simply throw the theory out, you get back to work and think about why the evidence didn’t support the theory); who was willing to take wildly idiosyncratic views to see where they led (his options pricing formula was based on his firm belief in the Capital Asset Pricing Model, but it succeeded because once you went down that route you didn’t need CAPM’s assumptions for it to work because they canceled each other out, and he had strange views on the Business Cycle which remain both largely ignored yet fertile ground for provoking thought); and who managed to straddle both the academy and the real world (Black bookended his career by working first for the consulting firm Arthur D. Little and later Goldman Sachs, with stints as a professor at the University of Chicago and MIT inbetween).

Black also is a surprisingly interesting enough guy for someone who enjoyed quietly sitting at his desk for extended periods of time, as evidenced by his four marriages and occasional professional quarrels, though the book takes off after Black leaves graduate school (where he studied under Quine) and enters the real world. And while this book doesn’t immediately appear to offer any lessons for football, I think that depends on how you look at it. In any event, this paper attempts to apply some of Black’s macroeconomic theories to the recent financial crisis, and these blog posts here and here summarize his claims. In the words of Tyler Cowen: “[W]hy did both Milton Friedman and Bob Solow scorn him as a macroeconomist? Well, Fischer pushed two (actually more) controversial claims. First, the Fed cannot influence real or nominal variables, unless traders allow it to. Second, business cycles are caused by mismatches of tastes and production plans. If both of these were correct, Black would be the greatest macroeconomist of the century.”

On finance, the Nobel Press release (which Fischer Black was ineligible for, as he died before the award was given to Myron Scholes and Robert Merton) is informative. It’s worth pointing out, for those into this sort of thing, that Black didn’t look at the Black-Scholes formula as perfect; he wrote a paper in 1989 (which updated findings he’d published over a decade earlier) called “How to Use the Holes in Black-Scholes,” and when his collaborator Myron Scholes asked Black to join his hedge fund, Long-Term Capital Management (which infamously blew up after years of never having a losing day, as recounted in Roger Lowenstein’s great book When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management“>When Genius Failed), Black declined, saying their strategies were too risky and that they were borrowing too much money to finance their supposedly surefire bets. Black died before his prophecy could come true.

Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric, by Ward Farnsworth. Although completely different than the book above, I also highly recommend this new tome. It’s essentially a textbook — and even further, a book of examples — but the examples are carefully chosen, and the commentary is both very interesting and appropriately limited. “Rhetoric” in the title is used in the older sense (hence “Classical” in the title), and the book consists of rhetorical devices used by masters of the English language to enhance their prose and communication. One great feature of the book is it is not limited to writers: Farnsworth makes extensive use of the greatest speakers of the English language, from Churchill to Lincoln to Daniel Webster and to Edmund Burke. Here is a (very positive) Wall Street Journal review of the book.

The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies (New Edition), by Bryan Caplan, and Political Parties, by Robert Michels. I’m trying to get up to speed on Public Choice theory, and these both came highly recommended. So far I’m enjoying the Caplan book more, though that may be due to his provocative and idiosyncratic views.

– Not a book — and still, not truly football (apologies) — but the internet is buzzing about A.J. Daulerio’s GQ Profile. I don’t have much to add, though I found this excerpt interesting:

I ask if his persona on Deadspin is who he is in real life.

“I think it’s very close,” he says. “I think that’s part of the problem, too.”

I think that’s all you can really ask of any writer or blogger — is your product true to you? I also think it’s worth comparing the GQ piece with the New Yorker’s bit this week on Aol (yes that is how the company capitalizes it now), which is trying to evolve from a fee-based internet provider to a content generator. An excerpt:

[M]ost of [Aol CEO Tim] Armstrong’s turnaround strategy — make the site cleaner, add local news, create unique content, make AOL a destination portal — is based on ideas from the Internet’s past . . . . But Web advertising rates have decreased in recent years, since demand (the number of Web pages) vastly outpaces supply (the number of advertisers). . . . Other portals offer an array of content. All vie for advertising, talent, and the attention of consumers. While AOL — like Yahoo and the Huffington Post — boasts of the original journalism it produces, it doesn’t employ a single overseas correspondent. . . . Perhaps Tim Armstrong will manage to make AOL rise again, but there’s a much more common path followed by digital companies — like Wang, DEC, Starwave, Excite, and Lycos. They rise, then they sputter, and then they crash.

I’m certain that there is a relationship between the New Yorker and GQ pieces and the Public Choice books above.

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.

What I’ve been reading

Coaching Football’s 46 Defense, by Rex Ryan. That’s  the link to the (five hour) DVD Rex made while at the University of Cincinnati. I just ordered book by Ryan and Jeff Walker on the 46 defense; I assume more of the same, but I’m a book guy. Either way (and not a surprise given his lineage), Rex knows all there is to know about this defense.

Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity, by Ray Bradbury. I can’t write like Bradbury — he of Fahrenheit 451 — but this exuberant, infectious screed about the joys of writing makes me want to try.

Distress Investing: Principles and Technique, by Martin Whitman and Fernando Diz. This book is neither exuberant nor infectious, but it does a surprisingly good job explaining the nuts and bolts of workouts, liquidations and Chapter 11 and the effect that has on a company’s securities (stocks, bonds, etc.). As interesting (or as dry) as it was, it is of more academic than practical interest to me — I won’t be buying any syndicated loans participation rights for myself any time soon. (I’m more of an indexer myself.)

The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business and Life, by Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff. As far as primers on game theory go, this one is much better than Rock, Paper, Scissors, but there’s nothing particularly new here either and — after a furious train ride where I read about half of it in one sitting — I haven’t touched it in a month. I will finish it, eventually. (Or so I tell myself.)

Selected Tales and Sketches, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne was always just ever-so-slightly wordier than I liked (an ironic criticism coming from me, no doubt), but these little stories are a pleasure to read, especially if you only have a few minutes.

The Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk. Excellent, melancholy — essentially what you’d expect from Pamuk. Although he is older, the characters here felt younger and less ironic than in his prior books.

And finally,  a question: In the last few months there have been a spate of books professing to bring football knowledge to the masses —The Games That Changed the Game: The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays, the Jaworski/Steve Sabol book and Sports Illustrated Blood, Sweat & Chalk: The Ultimate Football Playbook: How the Great Coaches Built Today’s Game, Tim Layden’s book, being two of them. I’ve flipped through them and read excepts, and though Layden is an excellent writer and Jaworski a guy I generally respect (at least in the context of his narrow football worldview), I find myself unable to pick them up; life always seems too short. Am I missing out? Are they enjoyable and informative romps through football history? Or are they aimed at a sub-Smart Football audience, the fan who has watched for years but never really bothered to learn the difference between a blitz and a zone run. Let me know.

What I’ve been reading

Football Scouting Methods, by Steve Belichick. For a long time, this widely revered tome by Steve Belichick, Bill’s dad, was out of print — and so I never read it. But I recently realized that it had been re-released and thus the price came down from its prior astronomical levels to the very affordable $10. One of the Amazon reviewers helpfully includes the table of contents for curious readers:

1. A case for specialization in scouting
2. Preparations for scouting
3. What is expected of the scout
4. Worksheet forms and terminology
5. How to recognize the defense
6. Scouting the defense
7. Defensive analysis
8. Scouting the offense
9. Offensive analysis
10. The final report
11. Self-scouting and post game analysis
12. Tip offs

Surreptitiously filming your opponents red zone plays is, to my knowledge, not covered, but hopefully the wisdom herein will trickle into my writing here on the site.

More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite, by Sebastian Mallaby. First things first: Mallaby, who is a former writer for the Economist and whose prior book, The World’s Banker: A Story of Failed States, Financial Crises, and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations (about Jim Wolfensohn, the former World Bank president), was excellent, has written a full-throated defense of hedge funds and hedge fund managers — a rather unique topic in today’s climate. But whatever your views on this “new elite,” Mallaby’s book is extremely informative and entertaining, as, unsurprisingly, the history of hedge funds is filled with quixotic characters. I thoroughly enjoyed this, even if, at the end, while the financial world was crumbling as a result of the risk taking of many, Mallaby’s book becomes something of a thriller where we wait to see if various hedge funds will blow up or survive. The fact that he can overcome such oddities is a testament to Mallaby’s formidable writing skills. For a sample chapter, check out this piece from the Atlantic, covering George Soros’s successful effort to break the British pound.

Hitch-22: A Memoir, by Christopher Hitchens. I have a very soft spot for Hitch, as his rhetorical prowess is such that he could say basically anything and, because it sounds so good and is said so well, you fall in for it, even if just a bit. (And sometimes you wonder if he doesn’t set himself up that way on purpose.) But when he’s on your side, there are few better or more forceful advocates. Hitch-22: A Memoir — which is not a memoir at all, but is instead just a roughly chronological series of stories Mr. Hitchens has chosen to tell about himself and his famous friends — is fun, pungent, and elegantly written; a perfect beach read for the Fourth of July, when I read it. It doesn’t do much to explain the man (or maybe it does?), but Hitchens has always been less about bracing complexity for complexity’s sake than acknowledging it (which alone differentiates him from many commentators), then choosing a side (thus differentiating him from the rest), and asserting the moral high ground until you concede or his position is no longer remotely tenable. A sample chapter on his friendship with Martin Amis is available from Vanity Fair.

American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic, by Joseph Ellis. Ellis is maybe my favorite storyteller/historian on American History (there are historians and storytellers, and for some reason with American History few successfully manage both roles). Ellis charts early American history — post revolutionary war, in particular — through the men that made it and it made famous, though without deifying them in the process. A great text to help fill in the gaps and to give some much needed perspective on a now much discussed time.

What I’ve been reading

– 2010 Nike Coach of the Year Manual. Self-recommending. The two articles on Alabama’s defense — one by Kirby Smart, the other by Saban himself — are alone worth the price.

The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home, by Dan Ariely. I just ordered this and it is, of course, self-recommending. The Kindle edition is a bit pricey for an e-version, but I guess we have Steve Jobs and the iPad to thank for that. In any event, Ariely’s new book looks like a worthwhile successor to his earlier great work, Predictably Irrational.

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis. Worth the read, as everything by Lewis is. My only complaint was, as someone who had read most of his magazine pieces in Portfolio, Vanity Fair, and so on, that I found a lot of overlap with those earlier pieces. But the overlap stopped around 80 pages in, and at that point the narrative took off — funny, insightful, and easy to read. It’s also quite timely: the trades described in the SEC’s complaint against Goldman Sachs take a very similar form to the trades described in Lewis’s book (though obviously Lewis doesn’t claim to know what Goldman was telling the people they did their trades with). Plus the Kindle edition is finally out.

Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, by Liaquat Ahamed. A wonderful narrative following the world’s most prominent central bankers from the end of World War I up until World War II — from the United States, Germany, France, and Great Britain. Ahamed gracefully mixes history with personality while he describes the blunders these men made, first while operating under the system of post-WWI reparations and second by hewing the gold standard despite all the evidence. (With John Maynard Keynes frequently appearing as gadly, before of course he had actually invented Keynesian economics.) It took me a bit to finish this as I put it down a few times and got busy but I highly recommend it.

12 Modern Philosophers, edited by Christopher Belshaw and Gary Kemp. This is book is not exactly self-recommending: it’s a collection of introductory but nonetheless academic essays about, well, twelve modern philosophers. From the introduction: “There are 12 philosophers represented here, all writing in English, and all of them active in the last third of the twentieth century…. They are all highly important figures in philosophy now: widely read, initiators of debate. Are they the top 12 philosophers of our time? Of course we make no such claim. But were someone to give a list of, say, the 20 key players, then, probably, the 12 here would be among them.” So far so good for me; the essays on Quine, Rawls, and Rorty were good, but I am admittedly deficient in the ways of analytic philosophers, and the non-linear nature of a book of essays by different people is both a good thing (can jump around), and a bad thing (some essays drag, and little incentive to move on to the next one after finishing the last).

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West, by Cormac McCarthy. Brutal and haunting, McCarthy’s writing is something like if you made Nabokov use Ernest Hemingway’s sentence structures. I’m not sure I want to borrow McCarthy’s dark worldview (or his lack of commas), but it’s a great read. And, if it means anything, Harold Bloom considers it one of the best books of the 20th century and a work of “genius.”

More “influential” book lists

A quick rundown of more book lists, either in response to my list or to others’. The following are lists by:

Aaron Nagler

Matt Hinton

Tyler of The Lions in Winter


Dave of Pigskin Punditry

Trent of Howling with Mirth

Nathan Matthew

Kieran Healy

Ivar Hagendoorn

Matt Yglesias

And, though it’s not a most influential list, this is Brophy’s recent reading list. And I am still waiting on some other prominent sports bloggers to chime in. Don’t be afraid of being judged, in our little sarcastic, self-referential, self-deprecating world.

Books that have influenced me most

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.

What I’ve been reading

1Football’s Eagle and Stack Defenses, by Ron Vanderlinden, currently Penn State’s linebackers coach. This is a solid book on one particular defense, though much of it has general applicability. Fortunately you can read most of it online via Google Books, here.

2. Ravelstein, by Saul Bellow. Sad, funny, wistful (I enjoy the fake-word “wisty” as a descriptor). I’m only about halfway through but it’s written beautifully and thus is recommended. Not for everyone, I suppose, but I enjoy it.

3. Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System — and Themselves, by Andrew Ross Sorkin. This book has no real policy analysis, no economics, and no politics, and these are strengths; it is a blow-by-blow of the End Of Days Scenario that was our recent financial crisis. I wasn’t going to pick this up (it’s not a short book), but I read some of the excerpts online and found them gripping. Indeed, someone mentioned that they imagined Sorkin writing this in one long manic Kerouacian frenzy, and it does read like that. Again, this is a compliment.

4. The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy, by Bill Simmons (The Sports Guy). Someone picked this up for me. This is another of those too-long books that I nevertheless am tempted to hunker down and read. In particular, I am intrigued by this review of the book by economist/polymath Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution:

Could this be the best 736 pp. book on the diversity of human talent ever written?  It starts slow but eventually picks up steam.  It’s also devastatingly funny.  That said, if you don’t know a lot about the NBA, it is incomprehensible.  (I could not, for instance, understand the section of Dolph Schayes because that was not the NBA I know.)  In the historical pantheon, he picks David Thompson, Bernard King, and Allen Iverson as underrated.  The 1986 Boston Celtics are the best team ever, he argues.  And so on.  I found this more riveting than almost anything else I read and yes I think it is very much a work of social science, albeit in hermetic form.

What I’ve been reading

– Coaching Defensive Football, by Bill Arnsparger. 330-plus pages of non-stop hard-core football — can the reader take it? Bill Arnsparger was the architect of the Miami Dolphins’ “no-name” defense under Don Shula, head coach of the New York Giants and LSU Tigers, athletic director for the University of Florida (during which time the school was put on probation but he also hired Steve Spurrier), and, finally, defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers in the early 1990s under Bobby Ross, again heading to the Super Bowl. Yes, there have been football developments since this book was written, but a perusal of the table of contents that they are minor when compared to what the book covers.

The Anthologist: A Novel, by Nicholson Baker. Very quick read that I much enjoyed a lot, though people uninterested in poetry might not find it as pleasant as I did.

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, by Richard Rorty. A reread of a book I never quite finished before. Again I’m skipping around some, but I think Rorty wouldn’t mind. Not sure I agree with everything but it is difficult to be enthused about philosophy in the analytic tradition after reading this, which is, of course, much of the point of he book.

The Years with Ross, by James Thurber. This is Thurber’s famous profile of Harold Ross, longtime steward of The New Yorker. I just picked this up so it’s on the pile.

What I’ve been reading

1. Coaching Team Defense, by Fritz Shurmur. This simple, elegant book is probably the best “must-read” for coaching defense and understanding how it is played. Shurmur was of course a defensive coordinator, notably for the Green Bay Packers during their most recent Super Bowl run.

2. The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler. Highly readable, and highly rewarding. You forget how much crime fiction became a cliche after Chandler, and yet it is surprising how fresh he is despite the emulators.

3. Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, by H.G. Bissinger. I probably shouldn’t admit that I had never read this until now. I am only about fifty pages in so far, but it appears quite good so far. My expectations, based on the reviews, are high. I do think football is the greatest game not only for reasons internal to it, but for cultural reasons as well.

4. The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. I thought the first 60 or so pages were too cute, as the narrative was told (or hinted at) by excerpts from newspaper articles, flashes of dialogue by unnamed people, and a few recounted memories. But since then the book’s narrative has picked up considerably, and of course Atwood is an incredible stylist. We’ll see.

5. In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke’s War on the Great Panic, by David Wessel. Wessel is the Wall Street Journal’s economics editor, he does a wonderful job in this book of lucidly explaining the hows and whys of the Federal Reserve’s actions over the last year. The book is a great window into rather cataclysmic times just a few short months ago. Wessel comes down firmly on the side that the Fed and Treasury were right to act boldly. I’ll leave it at that, and say that this book does give you plenty of good reporting on the behind the scenes regardless of how you come out on these questions, and although something just shy of 300 pages, the book was brisk enough for my to finish it on a recent plane ride.

As a final note, I am curious what the reviews are on the Kindle. I’m an iPhone addict, and had been set to go out and buy a Kindle, but have mellowed on my desire to get one. Nicholson Baker’s recent essay on the Kindle is worth the read. Per Baker’s recommendation, I downloaded some of the free reading applications for the iPhone, and have been surprised how much I like reading on it. I’ve been using Stanza and sticking so far to public domain works, but I’m halfway through A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (a re-read), and it’s actually quite pleasurable with the large text on the small screen. Cycling through pages is no trouble at all, just a tap on the right side of the screen. Anyone have any advice or commentary on the future of reading? Or just what I should be using to do it? I’m still kind of a book guy, but I don’t have any particular sentimental value for them.