This book is a good exposition of practical, applicable sports psychology. Afremow is an experienced practitioner who has worked with a number of profThis book is a good exposition of practical, applicable sports psychology. Afremow is an experienced practitioner who has worked with a number of professional athletes. Though he makes his points in part through anecdotes featuring Olympic athletes, the ideas involved are in no way sport-specific; a sprinter, a basketball player, and a golfer could all benefit from the book.
For those that have read other sports psychology books (such Harvey Dorfman’s seminal _The Mental Game of Baseball_), there is, unfortunately, little new. But, for those that are new to the topic, Afremow’s book is as good an introduction as any to topics like having a present-moment focus, dealing with pain, and being willing to do what others will not.
There are two particularly compelling chapters, well worth reading even for those who already feel like they have a good understanding of the topic. The first is an application of Zen folk stories to sports; the presentation makes the messages memorable, and the fact that stories that originate so long ago and so far away are so obviously relevant underscores the universality of the challenges that athletes face. The second chapter of note is a collection of interviews with Olympians, wherein each Olympian shares their insights. Like the Zen stories, the Olympic stories are memorable and insightful. ...more
As a Little League dad, coach, umpire, and board member, I found Geist’s book hilarious — though, at times, the humor hit a little too close to home.As a Little League dad, coach, umpire, and board member, I found Geist’s book hilarious — though, at times, the humor hit a little too close to home. The book skewers the personality archetypes ubiquitous in Little League including the hyper-competitive coach who wins at all costs, the president who keeps repeating that “winning isn’t important”, and the parents who are convinced that their child is destined for the Major Leagues.
The story unfolds throughout a single Little League season and covers all the high points: tryouts, the draft, unseasonably cold pre-season practices, the first game, and playoffs. Anyone who has been through even one season will recognize adults and children from their own experience in Geist’s characters. Little League’s central challenge, in my experience, is the conflict between its stated mission of character development and the desire of many participants to develop as competitive ballplayers. Geist highlights that challenge well; tongue planted firmly in cheek he takes equal-opportunity potshots at both sides.
The outlandish exaggerations are amusing, but the end of the book drags a bit. And, unfortunately, the consistent cynicism obscures the beauty of Little League: the kid who finally gets his first hit on the last day of the season, the community that comes together around the game, and the chance for kids to have their first “real job” as umpires. So, while I certainly laughed out loud at various points, I found Geist’s humor just the slightest bit sad....more
To describe the inaugural novel in the “Jack and Jill” series as “action-packed” is like describing Usain Bolt as “pretty quick”, Muhammad Ali as a “gTo describe the inaugural novel in the “Jack and Jill” series as “action-packed” is like describing Usain Bolt as “pretty quick”, Muhammad Ali as a “good boxer”, or Babe Ruth as a “decent hitter”. You can apply all the cliches you want (“high-octane thriller”, “heart-pounding excitement”), you can compare the story to Kill Bill crossed with John Wick, but you’re still not going to quite capture the frenetic pace of this story. Robert Ludlum novels look introspective and thoughtful by comparison.
Jack and Jill are twins who have been trained by their super-spy special-operative mother as super-spy special operatives. But, they are estranged from their mother because they can no longer tolerate her manipulative training techniques, her constant paranoia, or her web of deceit. And, while bonded as only twins can be, they have their own issues as well. But, when they get an emergency alert from mom, they are thrust back together in a hail of knives, guns, bullets, drugs, hitmen (lots of hitmen!), helicopters, unhackable phones, secret hideouts, dim connections to the (including the father they have never known), rusted ships, and a dim figure known only as The Broker. Stuff happens. People are wounded, some of them fatally. Psyches crack. Mysteries are solved only to create new questions. There are crosses and double-crosses.
If you’re looking for a thoughtful spy novel that raises existential questions about good and evil, you’re looking for John Le Carre, not Taylor Stevens. But if you want a fun page-turner, look no further. ...more
Anthony Horowitz was an Ian Fleming fan in his youth — and it shows. Horowitz’s second James Bond novel (following Trigger Mortis) is an appropriate hAnthony Horowitz was an Ian Fleming fan in his youth — and it shows. Horowitz’s second James Bond novel (following Trigger Mortis) is an appropriate homage to Fleming’s Bond. In movie terms, think Sean Connery in Dr. No, not Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye. The Fleming estate made a wise choice in commissioning Horowitz to write these official, authorized extensions to the Bond canon; Horowitz has done an excellent job of adhering to Fleming’s style.
Horowitz’s primary setting is the French Riviera at some unspecified time in the early 1960s. There are, of course, glittering casinos, beautiful yachts, evil masterminds, and women who are more beautiful and more dangerous than either the masterminds or the yachts. Horowitz uses this book to flesh out Bond’s backstory; the first few pages tell how Bond becomes a full-fledged member of the “double-oh” section and gets his famous 007 moniker.
The story, while satisfying enough, is sadly a bit predictable; it is almost as if Horowitz feels bound not just to Fleming’s style and era, but also to his plots. In the way that Star Wars Episode VII has yet-another Death Star-like object, Forever and a Day has almost too many of the trademark Bond elements. That small criticism aside, however, fans of the original Fleming novels will find this new addition to the Bond stories an irresistible page turner....more
This book is a lovely, quirky combination of baseball statistics, applied psychology, and war stories from independent ball, which is professional basThis book is a lovely, quirky combination of baseball statistics, applied psychology, and war stories from independent ball, which is professional baseball at a lower level than the traditional minor leagues. Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller are self-professed "statheads". Ben and Sam are given the chance to control both roster and lineup for the Sonoma Stompers 2015 season and intend to apply their sophisticated statistics to help the Stompers win the league championship by employing novel strategies that most baseball traditionalists are unwilling to try.
Ben and Sam's ideas about using mathematics to run the team run into obstacles almost immediately. It is difficult to get the data that they want. The players they would like to recruit do not want to play for the Stompers -- and team insiders are comfortable with known quantities, even if the numbers support recruiting new faces. The team manager is a traditionalist, and isn't about to change his lineup just because a couple of courdoroy-wearing nerds say he should. The players don't read the scouting reports on the opposing team. Some of the best players leave the team because they are recruited by higher-level teams, or because they decide that their baseball days are through. Ben and Sam do an excellent job of chronicling their ideas and the degree to which they were, or were not, able to implement those ideas.
But, despite more than a few charts featuring statistical measures that casual fans may not have seen before, the stated premise of the book (using statistics to drive novel baseball strategy) is neither the true theme of the book nor its true value. The reason the book is such a gem is that Ben and Steve capture the comedy, drama, tragedy, and farce that makes up a season of independent ball, from spring training through the championship game. Sam and Ben detail baseball plays (great and not-so-great), umpiring (consistently poor), off-color jokes (funny, funny-not-funny, and just plain not-funny), and mixing of people (rookies and veterans, Americans and Dominicans, pot-smokers and tea-totalers). Jose Cancseco, a former Major League superstar, joins the team for a few days -- before joining an opposing team in the league. A player's girlfriend becomes the mascot for a day so she can surprise him with a kiss at home plate. Sean Conroy makes his debut as the first openly-gay professional baseball player (which leads to recognition in the baseball Hall of Fame). Several Stompers players get opportunities to play in affiliated ball, giving them a possible chance at the Big Leagues. But, there's also an undercurrent of of sadness; most of these players, as good as they may be, are unwilling to admit that they will never play at a higher level....more
Annie Duke has a fascinating biography. She was most of the way through a Ph.D. in psychology when she switched gears to become a professional poker cAnnie Duke has a fascinating biography. She was most of the way through a Ph.D. in psychology when she switched gears to become a professional poker champion. Duke is now a corporate consultant, teaching lessons about decision-making that she learned playing poker to corporate executives. Her book captures some of her insights.
Unfortunately, the book is not as fascinating as Duke herself. There are indeed some valuable insights in her book. Amongst those: the idea that all of our decisions are bets, that thinking probabilistically is helpful, that there is a difference between a good outcome and a good decision, that outcomes are driven by decisions and luck, that working with others can help us make better decisions. But, many of the insights are familiar to those who have read other related books, such as the fantastic Thinking, Fast and Slow. Though her prose is eminently readable, it takes Duke too long to cover some of her topics; the book feels at times repetitive. And more tales of her poker exploits would have made the book more fun.
That said, Duke does an excellent job of explaining and examining several key cognitive biases, including resulting (evaluating our decisions based on only on their outcomes) and self-serving bias (explaining favorable outcomes as due to our superior skill, and unfavorable outcomes as the result of bad luck). She does also provide practical methods for improving decision-making by using groups who are committed to frank evaluation and feedback and by using "mental time travel", i.e., thinking about how one's future self is likely to evaluate one's present actions.
I'd give two-to-one odds that those who would like to improve their decision-making, and who are willing to accept some amount of repetition, will find the book worth reading....more
Dr. Peter Gomes was for many years the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School, and the Pusey Minster at Harvard's Memorial CDr. Peter Gomes was for many years the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School, and the Pusey Minster at Harvard's Memorial Church. (Regretfully, although I was a student at Harvard, I failed to hear him speak.) His stated purpose in this book is to encourage Christians to examine their own relationship with the Bible and its role in larger society. He claims that our interpretation of the Bible it is necessarily a reflection of us, and that we must interpret the Bible in the context of our own culture. Gomes cautions against three major sins of interpretation: (a) making the Bible itself into an idol, giving it "glory due to God", (b) worshiping the words over the spirit, and (c) using the Bible to justify those aspects of our current culture to which we are unjustifiably attached.
In light of Gomes' concerns, it is unsurprising that this book is not conventional "Bible Study"; it is not an attempt to look at particular verses and draw conclusions from them, nor are there exercises that ask the reader to relate Bible stories to their own lives. There are of course plenty of references to scripture, and interesting examinations of some of the stories, but this is an intellectual Christian's attempt to put the Bible in to the context of modern America, not a devotional.
The section of the book that addresses some of the evil that has been done under the cover of scripture is provocative and interesting. Gomes is unafraid to point out that Christians have done many un-Christian things. He specifically addresses slavery in the United States, anti-Semitism, sexism within the church, and mistreatment of homosexuals. Gomes presents the arguments, rooted in specific Bible passages, that have been used to justify bad acts, and then provides compelling arguments that we should be looking at the big picture, rather than to specific biblical verses, to determine how to deal with such issues. As Gomes puts it, we should be looking to biblical principle, not biblical practice.
On the topic of science, Gomes takes the position that the Bible and science are simply two different things; we need not reconcile (say) the biblical account of creation with the fossil record because the Bible is not attempting to provide a scientific account of creation, but, rather, provide a framework for us to use to understand our relationship to God. In a discussion of evil, Gomes makes the interesting argument that the civil rights movement was successful in part because it was, at its heart, a Christian campaign against evil, where as later rights movements have been less successful because they have been unwilling to frame the question as one of good vs. evil.
I can certainly imagine that many readers will disagree with some of Gomes' perspectives. His writing at times suffers occasionally from a common tendency of writers with elite educations: obscure references that only others with similarly elite educations will recognize. But, for those willing to make occasional use of Google, the reward is well-worth the effort and I would think that most readers would find something of value in the book. Even non-Christians would benefit from the thoughtful analysis of how the Bible has shaped America, for better and for worse....more
Most of Jack Reacher's previous adventures (and there have been a lot of them!) are set in the present in which Reacher is a nomadic, bus-riding, hitcMost of Jack Reacher's previous adventures (and there have been a lot of them!) are set in the present in which Reacher is a nomadic, bus-riding, hitch-hiking magnet for trouble. A few have been set in the past, when Reacher was a Major in a military police unit, and in those stories (and a couple of short stories) we have briefly encountered Reacher's family. This latest installment goes back even further, to Reacher's father's childhood in a New Hampshire hamlet. Reacher happens to be in the area and (of course) his brief investigation into his family history uncovers, eventually, a criminal enterprise that must be stopped. As is usually the case, Reacher is more interested in justice than in legal formalities, as if his distaste for military red tape extends not just to bureaucratic paperwork but to the entire notion of arrest, arraignment, trial, and sentencing.
Lee Child's signature style is in fine form in the book. No other author is able to use sentence fragments so effectively. Who needs verbs, anyhow? Reacher's military past seems to come through in his clipped internal monologues, where there are just enough words to do the job. No more, no less. Nothing wasted, but no effort spared, either. (See what I did there?) The usual Reacher tropes (his ability to keep track of time without a watch, his lack of possessions, his ability to visualize a fight before it happens) are all present, but Child has avoided the common problem of series fiction in which the characters become caricature because they must go through the same rituals in every book. Reacher's character is just Reacher's character; he behaves how he behaves, but doesn't feel forced.
The only disappointment is that the evil perpetrated in Child's latest novel is, while exotic, somewhat predictable and of limited scope. In the past, Reacher has taken on larger criminal enterprises with more impact. But, there is certainly suspense, if not quite enough mystery, and it's hard to imagine any fan of the series would not enjoy Reacher's latest adventure, or the back-story that fills in a bit of his family history....more
Steinhauer introduced us to Ferenc, a policemen in a fictional Iron Curtain country, in The Bridge of Sighs. The protagonist of The Bridge of Sighs waSteinhauer introduced us to Ferenc, a policemen in a fictional Iron Curtain country, in The Bridge of Sighs. The protagonist of The Bridge of Sighs was Emil, the new recruit. The Confession is Ferenc's story.
At one level, The Confession is a mystery. Ferenc investigates a series of murders. In the process of tracking the murderer, he puts himself in harms way. Adventures ensue. And, were that all there were to the story, even that much would be satisfying. There are the twists and turns that make mysteries enjoyable. Ferenc's is forced both to confront and to make use of his own weaknesses. Steinhauer puts Ferenc into situations where conventional morality offers no easy answers; as I read particular sections, I found myself simultaneously sympathetic and appalled.
But, what The Confession is special is that, as in his previous novel, the darkness of life in Soviet-controlled Easter Europe comes alive. Without explicitly saying so, Steinhauer imparts the sense that life is grim, that state security is ubiquitous, and that people must inform on their neighbors to protect themselves. Ferenc, while working for the state, is skeptical of its oppressive nature; his school-age daughter, however, is being indoctrinated via her membership in the Pioneers. Ferenc is aware of the Hungarian Revolution, which is, of course, brutally crushed by Soviet forces. While fictional, The Confession draws a clear picture of the grim nature of life in a country where listening to the "wrong" radio station was a crime....more
Ned Colletti tells his own rags-to-riches baseball story, from his humble beginnings in a poor neighborhood in Chicago to a jet-setting lifestyle as tNed Colletti tells his own rags-to-riches baseball story, from his humble beginnings in a poor neighborhood in Chicago to a jet-setting lifestyle as the General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Colletti is a lifelong baseball fan; he tells stories of seeing his hometown Cubs both in his youth and after his eventual firing by the Dodgers. His love of the game jumps off the page, and is reflected in his career; he starts out as a sportswriter, then works for the Cubs media relations department, and only later moves into the front office.
The highlights of the book are the baseball yarns, both on-field and off-field. Colletti paints an intimate portrait of Andrew Dawson fighting through pain to make spectacular plays in a meaningless game. He details Dodgers' owner Frank McCourt's approach to negotiating Colletti's own contract. He tells how his baseball connections allowed him to have dinner with Frank Sinatra. An entire chapter is devoted to baseball broadcasting icon Vin Scully, and that investment is well worthwhile; Colletti's description of Scully's retirement is a tear-jerker.
Colletti's thoughts on the so-called Steroid Era are fascinating. Despite being an insider, he seems genuinely unsure as to how many players used which substances, or for how long. He ponders the difficult question of Hall of Fame membership for players that were known to use performance-enhancing drugs. And, he makes interesting observations about how difficult it was to know what kind of player you were really getting, given that players would often use PEDs for relatively brief periods in their careers to increase their value -- only to stop using the PEDs to protect their own health once they had signed a long-term contract.
Unfortunately, Colletti seems overly intent on burnishing his own legacy. (His publisher did him no favors by use of the unnecessary "acclaimed" in the subtitle of the book; if you're acclaimed, you don't need to tell people that you're acclaimed!) Colletti portrays himself as making shrewd moves as General Manager of the Dodgers, unable to get the Dodgers a World Series victory because ownership was unwilling to invest enough and because star players couldn't play nicely together. He carefully details his good decisions -- but doesn't provide much insight into the moves that didn't work out well for the team. The book would have been more intriguing if Colletti had reflected more deeply on what he learned about strategy for assembling a winning team.
For those of us that are baseball fans, the book is an enjoyable chance to peek into the dugouts and front offices of Major League franchises. But, it's more a collection of anecdotes than a coherent analysis. It's the airbrushed portrait of a man who loved the national pastime and it's a pleasant way to pass the time -- but it's a late regular-season game between two teams without much on the line, not Game 7 of the World Series....more
Despite the reference to John Wooden in the title, this book is not a biography of collegiate basketball’s most famous coach. Instead, it is a reflectDespite the reference to John Wooden in the title, this book is not a biography of collegiate basketball’s most famous coach. Instead, it is a reflection on how John Wooden lived seven guidelines espoused by his father, Joshua Hugh Wooden. Joshua gave Johnny (as he was then known) a paper with seven pieces of advice when Johnny was 12 — and Coach Wooden carried the paper in his wallet for the rest of his life.
Joshua’s advice is simple enough. “Be true to yourself” and “Make each day your masterpiece” are neither original nor complex. The substance of the book is not the advice itself, but, rather, the examples of how John Wooden, and the people around him, made use of these guidelines. For example, when discussing helping others, Wooden talks about the importance of being unselfish in basketball. And, in the section on gratitude, there is a poignant story of Collin Powell (after retiring from government service) stopping at a shelter for homeless veterans simply to thank them for their service.
Unlike Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life, which ties Bible study directly to Wooden’s coaching, this book is not explicitly religious. However, faith was important to father and son, and is a theme throughout the book. One of the elder Wooden’s pieces of advice is to “Pray for guidance and counsel” and another is to “Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible”. The book tells a variety of stories, about Wooden and his players, that show how faith played a role in his life.
It's easy to dismiss most inspirational books as mere schmaltz. But, Pat Williams has written a pleasant, readable book that serves a valuable purpose: it causes us to think carefully about the things we thinks we already know about living a good life. And, it reminds those of us who are parents that our children pay close attention to the advice we give -- and the examples we set....more