REEFER MADNESS, by Eric Schlosser. A collection of three investigative journalism essays on various aspects of America’s black market — marijuana growth and sales; cheap agricultural labor; and pornography. While this book isn’t nearly as gripping and informative as Schlosser’s FAST FOOD NATION (you’ve read that one, right?), there’s plenty of fascinating reportage to keep you turning pages. The book, by its nature, is somewhat scattershot (the links between pot, cheap labor, and pornography are, well, kind of nonexistent), but definitely worth a browse. I wonder when will see the “Catch Me If You Can”-like treatment of Reuben Sturman’s life on film.
MONEYBALL, by Michael Lewis. Fellow Berkeleyan Lewis goes inside the front office of the Amazin’ A’s, a team with a pittance to spend on players that somehow manages to make it to the playoffs year after year (during which, they make asses of themselves by losing series after having been up 2 games to 0.) This is a tale with many lessons, most of them dealing with the foolishness of conventional wisdom and how hard it can be for people to see the truth that is dangling right in front of their very eyes. Some understanding and appreciation of baseball helps.
Baseball fans who have not yet read BALL FOUR, Jim Bouton’s uproarious 1970 memoir about pitching in the big leagues. Controversial because it threw light on the seamy underbelly of “America’s Pastime.” Funny because, well, it’s funny.
Both MONEYBALL and BALL FOUR expose a certain religiosity appiled to the sport of rounders. People’s relationship with the game seems to be one of faith. MONEYBALL shows how baseball people act a certain way, because, well, they’ve always done things that way. And when someone (like Paul DePodesta, the A’s Assistant GM) questions it, they’re treated like a heretic. BALL FOUR demonstrated that baseball’s saints (Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams) were people, just like anyone else — a truth that many of the devoted simply didn’t want to hear.