Sports fans and science geeks alike will enjoy these travels in the world where numbers, luck, and superstardom meet.

THE HOT HAND

THE MYSTERY AND SCIENCE OF STREAKS

Wall Street Journal sports reporter Cohen looks into the odd “science of streaks.”

Is there a “hot hand,” the term basketball players use to describe that magical, endorphin-inducing moment when you can’t miss a shot and “achieve some elevated state of ability in which you feel briefly superhuman”? It’s one of the finest of psychological states, and if most of us don’t land in it regularly, there are people like Steph Curry to study, as the author does. By the numbers, Curry shouldn’t be the superstar shooter that he is—even though he’s 6-feet-3 he’s still smaller than most of the players he goes up against, a key datum point. What changed him was a summer spent teaching himself to shoot all over again: lifting the ball over his head and releasing it as he was jumping up, essentially making himself as tall as the defenders who would otherwise block his shots. That summer involved thousands of shots, and in the end, it made Curry “the best shooter the sport of basketball had ever seen.” This case study provides a springboard for Cohen to look at such things as the construction of data sets. One of the cardinal sins involving data is to make conclusions with numbers that are too small to support them—whence the “law of small numbers,” proposed by the Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, who themselves have written an improbably brilliant hot streak of scholarly papers. Cohen examines the use of those data sets to crunch all sorts of perhaps unlikely problems: Is a supposed lost masterpiece by Vincent van Gogh the real deal? Did Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat, really die of a heart attack, as the Soviets proclaimed, or did he die in the gulag? Cohen returns, always, to the game of basketball, but he pauses along the way to provide fascinating looks at coin tosses, investments, farm yields, and other real-world instances of how probability plays out in the world.

Sports fans and science geeks alike will enjoy these travels in the world where numbers, luck, and superstardom meet.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-282072-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Custom House/Morrow

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

BACK FROM THE DEAD

A basketball legend reflects on his life in the game and a life lived in the “nightmare of endlessly repetitive and constant pain, agony, and guilt.”

Walton (Nothing but Net, 1994, etc.) begins this memoir on the floor—literally: “I have been living on the floor for most of the last two and a half years, unable to move.” In 2008, he suffered a catastrophic spinal collapse. “My spine will no longer hold me,” he writes. Thirty-seven orthopedic injuries, stemming from the fact that he had malformed feet, led to an endless string of stress fractures. As he notes, Walton is “the most injured athlete in the history of sports.” Over the years, he had ground his lower extremities “down to dust.” Walton’s memoir is two interwoven stories. The first is about his lifelong love of basketball, the second, his lifelong battle with injuries and pain. He had his first operation when he was 14, for a knee hurt in a basketball game. As he chronicles his distinguished career in the game, from high school to college to the NBA, he punctuates that story with a parallel one that chronicles at each juncture the injuries he suffered and overcame until he could no longer play, eventually turning to a successful broadcasting career (which helped his stuttering problem). Thanks to successful experimental spinal fusion surgery, he’s now pain-free. And then there’s the music he loves, especially the Grateful Dead’s; it accompanies both stories like a soundtrack playing off in the distance. Walton tends to get long-winded at times, but that won’t be news to anyone who watches his broadcasts, and those who have been afflicted with lifelong injuries will find the book uplifting and inspirational. Basketball fans will relish Walton’s acumen and insights into the game as well as his stories about players, coaches (especially John Wooden), and games, all told in Walton’s fervent, witty style.

One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1686-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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