Has Lewis spilled Beane's beans? Maybe so, but considering the mulish dispositions of baseball's scouts and front offices,...

MONEYBALL

THE ART OF WINNING AN UNFAIR GAME

A solid piece of iconoclasm: the intriguing tale of Major League baseball's oddfellows—the low-budget but winning Oakland Athletics.

Here's the gist, that baseball, from field strategy to player selection, is “better conducted by scientific investigation—hypotheses tested by analysis of historical baseball data—than be reference to the collective wisdom of old baseball men.” Not some dry, numbing manipulation of figures, but an inventive examination of statistics, numbers that reveal what the eye refuses to see, thanks to ingrained prejudices. As in most of Lewis's work (The New New Thing, 1999, etc.), a keen intellect is at work, a spry writing style, a facility to communicate the meaning of numbers, an infectious excitement, and a healthy disdain for the aura and power of big bucks. Such is the situation here: The Oakland A's have a budget that would hardly cover the Yankee's chewing tobacco. Their General Manager, Billy Beane, and his band of Harvard-educated assistants, are the heirs of Bill James (of whom there is an excellent portrait here). They creatively use stats to discover unsung talent—gems not so much in the rough as invisible to the overburden of received wisdom—a guy who will get on base despite being shaped like a pear or control the strike zone even if his fastball can't get out of third gear, measuring the measurables to garner fine talent at basement prices. At least for a few seasons, until the talent's worth is common knowledge and off they go to clubs who can pay them millions. And the A's win, and win and win, not yet to a Series victory, but edging closer. The story clicks along with steady momentum, and possesses excellent revelatory powers. There’s a method to the madness of the Beane staff, and Lewis incisively explains its inspired, heretical common sense.

Has Lewis spilled Beane's beans? Maybe so, but considering the mulish dispositions of baseball's scouts and front offices, they'll miss the boat again.

Pub Date: June 3, 2003

ISBN: 0-393-05765-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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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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Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.

WHEN THE GAME WAS OURS

NBA legends Bird and Johnson, fierce rivals during their playing days, team up on a mutual career retrospective.

With megastars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and international superstars like China’s Yao Ming pushing it to ever-greater heights of popularity today, it’s difficult to imagine the NBA in 1979, when financial problems, drug scandals and racial issues threatened to destroy the fledgling league. Fortunately, that year marked the coming of two young saviors—one a flashy, charismatic African-American and the other a cocky, blond, self-described “hick.” Arriving fresh off a showdown in the NCAA championship game in which Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans defeated Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores—still the highest-rated college basketball game ever—the duo changed the course of history not just for the league, but the sport itself. While the pair’s on-court accomplishments have been exhaustively chronicled, the narrative hook here is unprecedented insight and commentary from the stars themselves on their unique relationship, a compelling mixture of bitter rivalry and mutual admiration. This snapshot of their respective careers delves with varying degrees of depth into the lives of each man and their on- and off-court achievements, including the historic championship games between Johnson’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics, their trailblazing endorsement deals and Johnson’s stunning announcement in 1991 that he had tested positive for HIV. Ironically, this nostalgic chronicle about the two men who, along with Michael Jordan, turned more fans onto NBA basketball than any other players, will likely appeal primarily to a narrow cross-section of readers: Bird/Magic fans and hardcore hoop-heads.

Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-547-22547-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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