Sunday, January 29, 2012

Scorecasting -- Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim --------------- 3 Stars

In the vein of other 'huh, I never realized that was the reason why that happened' books like Freakonomics, Blink, and Tipping Points, comes Scorecasting, which is the same type of book but for sports. It's written by two economists who are avid fans that take a look at about a dozen common assumptions about sports and dispel them using a bunch of stats. It's a good read.

Some of the most enjoyable chapters included answers to the real reasons home teams have such a huge advantage, why football coaches should go for it more on 4th down, how to measure to the true value of a blocked shot, do players really get 'hot', and, of course, are the Cubs really cursed? The whole book is an easy read and the authors do a nice job of clearly boiling down some very boring statistics to a couple of easy to understand chapters on each subject. Not in the same league as Freakonomics or Tipping Point for reader enjoyment or useful anecdotes, the book still keeps you interested by moving from question to question quickly and easily explaining the materials to keep maximum interest.

If you are a sports fan, this book is definitely worth the read. If not, I am not sure this book would appeal at all. For those of us who do love sports, this book really is a fun read because so many of the questions that they answers are so applicable to the sports we watch and their answers are so insightful. Not surprising, behavioral and psychological reasons are at the forefront of many of these issues.

So, if you're a looking for a quick, easy read about sports that dispels many commonly held assumptions, this book is for you. It won't blow you out of the water, but you can take 10 minutes here or there to finish most chapters and would be left with much better insight about the games. I will spoil the last chapter about the Cubs though, they're not cursed. They are just cheap.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Brothers Karamazov -- Fyodor Dostoyevsky ------------------------------ 4 Stars

This is my first ever read and review of one of those crazy/crazy long Russian novels. One of the few books that was on my 'to read' list that was a free download on the Kindle, The Brothers Karamazov ended up being a pretty amazing read. For a while I wanted to read it but I knew it was going to be super long, potentially very boring, and potentially hard to understand. It was all of those at different times, but it was also much more.

The first thing that's worth knowing about the book, is that you've got stick with it and be persistent. I think its about 900 pages, though pages seem much different when reading on a Kindle. What was a bit depressing about the book is while I read it on the Kindle, I would often take a look at my 'percentage bar' at the bottom of the screen that says how far you are in a book. Usually, it moves a percent after a few pages of reading (you know, clicks on the Kindle). It didn't really do that with this book. I would read... and read.... and read and it would still be the same percentage. Finally, I decided to count and I realized, with the standard font, it was 17 pages (or clicks), before a percent went up. Sometimes that's like 15 minutes. So, this is my long about way of saying that the book is really long.

To make this even more painful, the first quarter of the book was really hard to get into. A lot of set up, very slow story telling, etc... it was rough. Additionally, they introduce a ton of characters that you have to keep track of, all with crazy Russian names, and they really, laboriously describe each one.

So, you are probably now asking, why did it get 4 stars? Well, once it got going, it was really good. It was entertaining, fun to read, and a real page turner for many parts. Basic premise of the book is a story about the brothers in the Karamazov family and their dad. There are three brothers, a murder takes place, and there is a trial. That's pretty much the whole book. But, there was so much more.

The book is really about life, about the human experience. Are people good or bad? Can they change? Is it nature or nurture? Is life free will or destined? What is love and how is it defined? Dostoyevsky, in his incredibly informal and collegial writing tone, takes a look at all of these questions. The characters are incredibly real, very deeply created, and easy to relate to. Some are crazy, some religious, some alcoholic, some caring, some madly in love...they include the whole spectrum of the human persona. Indeed, once the book gets going, it's a great read. Between the fairly interesting plot, coupled with the incredible level of meaning of each characters thoughts and actions, the book is really quite good.

(side note admission: I used Sparknotes after many of the chapters. I've never used Sparknotes before but it really added a lot to the reading. I started about half way through as I was reading chapters, thinking there wasn't much too it/I was bored, checked out Sparknotes and realized there was another whole level of depth I completely missed. It made the reading of the rest of the text much more enjoyable and I would recommend it).

So, I didn't really spend a whole bunch of time explaining the greatness of the book, but trust me, it's quite good. If you can stick with it over the first couple hundred of boring (relative to the rest) pages, you'll be in for a treat. One last thing you should know, and this may not surprise many of you, the book is sad. I guess that's sort of classic of Russian literature (unknown to me prior to talking to some others and reading the book). I mean, you can hope for the best and stuff for people but don't hold your breath. Either way, it's still worth the read. Enjoy!