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.”

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.