Beach reading

Some thoughts on a couple of books that I read while relaxing at Rehoboth Beach last week. I also read To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time, which was just as great as advertised — but I don’t want to tread old ground too much.

The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, Sasha Issenberg

Issenberg, a political writer at Slate, has written an engaging history of new techniques used to win campaigns. Generally speaking, these techniques are driven by the ability to collect large amounts of data on the electorate and a new willingness to conduct experiments with all this data — culminating in the 2008 and 2012 Obama re-election campaigns. While I’m skeptical of a lot of trends in political science (an overreliance on jargon, an tendency to simplify complex political decisions to fit neat proclamations), it seems that voting behavior is much more fertile terrain. Particularly when, as Issenberg points out, many of the assumptions of campaign operatives and consultants is based on little more than “gut feeling” or how it’s been done in the past. Some of the discussion on data management was of special interest to me, having been on the other side of it working with the database on Beau Biden’s reelection campaign in 2010.

Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics, Jonathan Wilson

I bought this book in England around the middle of April. (It’s football in the European sense, not the American one — though that’s a book I’d also like to read.) The fact that I’m just finishing it now is a testament to (a) how hectic my life has been over the past month and a half and (b) how difficult it is to make the history of football tactics engrossing. The book is deeply researched, integrating contemporary accounts from newspapers (aka my favorite thing about history) and personal stories to demonstrate how observers and participants reacted to the slow yet vibrant history of tactical innovations in football. Wilson is at his most entertaining when he assaults proponents of “direct football” — punting the ball long downfield at every possible opportunity — for elementary errors of math in their analysis. And even when the tactical talk gets a bit dry the book remains a very effective introduction into the footballing histories of about ten nations. Between this and Soccernomics, which I read in March, a good few months for investigating the sport.

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