Even the most innumerate soccer fan will find in this book justification to add some math to make the world’s game even more...

THE NUMBERS GAME

WHY EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT SOCCER IS WRONG

Using data to better understand (and improve a team’s odds of winning) the Beautiful Game.

Analytics, the use of data and statistics, has grown exponentially in the world of sports in recent years. Michael Lewis’ Moneyball revealed how Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane utilized analytics to exploit inefficiencies in the baseball marketplace of players and ideas. Coaches and administrators, as well as fans of other sports, have increasingly tried to apply analytics to the games they love. Anderson (London School of Economics and Cornell Univ.) and Sally (Business/Dartmouth) fit well into that tradition in this fine book about the use of analytics in soccer. Like many within the growing number of books in this genre, the authors, both of whom are academics, former athletes and fans, have the ability to convey complicated ideas and even more complex data and statistics into a readable whole that will appeal to fans who want to better understand the most popular sport in the world. Whether they are trying to ascertain what percentage of possession determines victory, to decide whether it is best to focus on scoring goals or not conceding them, to establish just how much coaches matter to a team’s success or myriad other exercises, they make compelling and occasionally contrarian cases for breaking away from thinking that too often comes down to, “seven words [that] have long dominated soccer: ‘That’s the way it’s always been done.’ ” Anderson and Sally destroy most of the rationales for such thinking in this entertaining, witty and thoughtful book, which should appeal not just to soccer fans, but to readers of Malcolm Gladwell and Freakonomics.

Even the most innumerate soccer fan will find in this book justification to add some math to make the world’s game even more beautiful.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-14-312456-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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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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Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading...

CONCUSSION

A maddening, well-constructed tale of medical discovery and corporate coverup, set in morgues, laboratories, courtrooms, and football fields.

Nigeria-born Bennet Omalu is perhaps an unlikely hero, a medical doctor board-certified in four areas of pathology, “anatomic, clinical, forensic, and neuropathology,” and a well-rounded specialist in death. When his boss, celebrity examiner Cyril Wecht (“in the autopsy business, Wecht was a rock star”), got into trouble for various specimens of publicity-hound overreach, Omalu was there to offer patient, stoical support. The student did not surpass the teacher in flashiness, but Omalu was a rock star all his own in studying the brain to determine a cause of death. Laskas’ (Creative Writing/Univ. of Pittsburgh; Hidden America, 2012, etc.) main topic is the horrific injuries wrought to the brains and bodies of football players on the field. Omalu’s study of the unfortunate brain of Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster, who died in 2002 at 50 of a supposed heart attack, brought new attention to the trauma of concussion. Laskas trades in sportwriter-ese, all staccato delivery full of tough guyisms and sports clichés: “He had played for fifteen seasons, a warrior’s warrior; he played in more games—two hundred twenty—than any other player in Steelers history. Undersized, tough, a big, burly white guy—a Pittsburgh kind of guy—the heart of the best team in history.” A little of that goes a long way, but Laskas, a Pittsburgher who first wrote of Omalu and his studies in a story in GQ, does sturdy work in keeping up with a grim story that the NFL most definitely did not want to see aired—not in Omalu’s professional publications in medical journals, nor, reportedly, on the big screen in the Will Smith vehicle based on this book.

Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading it.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8757-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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