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Two (well, three) Books Worth Reading (That You’ve Probably Already Gotten To)

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.

  1. Schlosser’s new one definately isn’t as good as FFN was. I really have never eaten at McDonald’s since reading that book. The links between pot, migrant labor, and porn aren’t direct of course, but I liked the way that Schlosser presents them as part of a spectrum of morality and legality.

    Pot: widely acceptable morally, yet viciously and iffectively legislated against.

    Migrant labor: mostly illegal, but essentially unenforced and economically crucial.

    Pornograpy: morally unacceptable yet almost totally legal (and perhaps economically vital in terms of tax revenues).

  2. I know absolutely nothing about sports, but anyone who is even remotely interested in statistics should read “the hot hand in basketball” by Amos Tversky (MIT). It’s an academic psychology paper about sports fans who become convinced that individual players have “streaks.” Through statistical analysis of a Celtics’ season shooting performance and through experimentation with random individuals shooting free throws, he basically proves that there is no such thing as a “shooting streak.” Rather, they are chance events. The paper has had a huge influence on the study of investment finance, market timing, and day trading.

    Have fun on your vacation, Peter.

  3. I’ll always have a soft spot for Ball Four because I found it on the street one day when walking home from school, back in the very early 1980s. It was pretty dog-eared, and it had been raining, but what the hell, free book, right?

    I started reading, and I was totally hooked. I’m not a sports guy (maybe I was once a hockey guy, but that was a long time before this, even) but the storytelling, the personalities, the history, the “backstage” experiences, it was so very cool.

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