Hardly groundbreaking, but a well-conceived and -executed addition to the burgeoning movement of stats-based sporting...




In a Freakonomics for sports, an economist and a sportswriter use the power of data analysis to debunk some of the sports world’s conventional wisdom.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Wertheim’s (Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played, 2010) familiar, straightforward style effectively complements the reams of data provided by Moskowitz (Finance/Univ. of Chicago) in this examination of a series of sports-related issues, including home-field advantage, the effectiveness of minority coaches and the hoary adage that defense wins championships. The conclusions they draw range from startlingly persuasive to shrug-inducing, a combination that results, perhaps, from the overall credibility of their arguments and the recent profusion of similar literature that makes once unthinkably counterintuitive arguments less eye-opening. Perhaps the authors’ most compelling—and pot-stirringly controversial—argument is the contention that home-field advantage, a statistically credible phenomenon in every sport, is almost exclusively a result of referee bias, itself a product of the psychological effect of home fans exhorting officials to make calls that favor their team, a subconscious influence even the best officials cannot overcome. Less convincing is their examination of the efficacy of performance-enhancing drugs. While they show a plausible link between low income and usage—a phenomenon that occurs in multiple countries, a logical result of those with less to lose and more to gain trying to cheat their way to success—they fail to account for players who have used drugs that either cannot be tested for or in such a way that they managed to avoid detection. Also, old-school fans will undoubtedly have trouble embracing concepts like there being no such thing as momentum and the attribution of “hot” and “cold” streaks primarily to random chance.

Hardly groundbreaking, but a well-conceived and -executed addition to the burgeoning movement of stats-based sporting analysis.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-59179-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown Archetype

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2010

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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