So having recently returned from a luxurious week of lounging around by a pool in Tunisia. Batteries fully recharged and mind cleansed etc etc. I thought I would write a quick blog post on my holiday reading. Having so much free time on my hands and aiming for maximum relaxation, I was able to get through 5 books! Here follows a short review of each of those.
I’m Ok, You’re Ok by Thomas A. Harris
What a way to kick off the holiday reading, a 200 pager on the psychology of relationships based on the pioneering work of Berne’s Transactional Analysis. I was introduced to this book by an enlightened HR business Partner in about 2005, and despite its last re-draft having been in the early 60’s it still stands the test of time. I like to try and read it every year (this doesn’t always happen), and I find it a useful tool for reflecting on recent work, personal and social relationships and interactions. The book essentially explains why people “game play”, why some people just love moaning and complaining and there are a couple of handy chapters on those overly emotional characters you meet from time to time. I won’t go into the theory here, other than to say that it gives you plenty of examples of how to engage the rational, compassionate, logical aspect of each of our personalities, and escape the overbearing lecturing of the Parent and the zero-sum games of the Child.
Richistan by Robert Frank
Recommended by the Economist, and written by the Wall Street Journal’s own wealth correspondent. Feels a tad dated now that the financial crisis has swept through. However I particularly enjoyed the opening chapters about Butler school, and the 3 distinct periods in the history of rich people (admittedly in America); The gilded age, the roaring twenties and the current (1985-2008) period. Some of the stories and 1 on 1’s were fantastical and well told, so much so that I read 3/4’s of the book in one evening. On finishing the book, my overriding sentiment was 1. That I didn’t want to be rich (well not a millionaire anyways) and secondly that I actually felt sorry for these people! They had chased the American dream, but it had consumed them to the extent that only being a $10millionare was not enough. Let me be clear this wasn’t a Gordon Gekko style “greed is good” but more of a dependence on the lifestyle and the need to keep up with the Joneses. Also there was a great chapter on the impact of wealth on the children of the Richistani’s, which made me despair for future generations! Great read
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Bit late on this one, and also totally missed the movie (despite promising myself I would go see it). Lets tackle the big criticism up front: People claim that the new owners of Liverpool are investing in the Sabermetrics that made the Oakland A’s punch above their weight. Anyone that actually reads this book will realise that is absolute bunk. J.W Henry was late to the scene in baseball as Owner of the Red Sox and tried to employ the workings of Billy Beane and Bill James (he later employed Bill), and secondly football does not fit the structured nature of baseball, additionally crosses or goal scoring opportunities created is not the same as on-base percentage (the metric used by Beane and the gang).
Now to the book. I loved it, Lewis tells a great story; it isn’t linear and isn’t meant to chronicle the achievements of the A’s during a season. It explores in enough detail the history of baseball statistics, the reason why Beane is attracted to this way of selecting in the draft, and the closed shop club like atmosphere that hinders the evolution of baseball as a sport. It also contains some lovely vignettes on particular players unloved by America’s Pastime but adored by Beane.
A couple of things I took away from this book: Having been to a couple of games when I was out in Pittsburgh last year, this book removed some of the mystery from RBI’s, Triple A, pitching innings of relief, watching the pitch count etc. Although the NYTimes baseball reports still look like a something churned out of the Enigma machine, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the game. Now if it is possible to hold two conflicting opinions at once, I also thought less of the people in the game of baseball; old crusty former players desperately holding onto the practices of the 1950’s in scouting and tactics. Also the way in which they closed ranks when the book came out, and declared (without reading it) that Beane had commissioned the book to make him look good (it doesn’t by the way), virtually excommunicating him from a community in which he was already viewed as an outsider. I drew some parallels with this and Football (both versions). If anyone in the premiership is adopting Moneyball style tactics it is Newcastle, but alas Alan Pardew still isn’t getting the respect he deserves, also in the NFL they say defense wins championships and that every team needs a good running game…. Just like bunting and stolen bases in baseball these are orthodoxies not to be challenged, and are holding back innovation in both sports.
The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford
I’ll keep this one short: I enjoyed learning more about economic theory, but not as much as I had hoped. I love his Financial Times column’s but this was a tough read. Sorry Tim, but I’ll still follow you on Twitter!
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
As I’m currently in training for a 10 mile run in the south of Luxembourg, I figured this would be a good complimentary read which might give me more inspiration. Having suffered a couple of injuries over the last few weeks, despite moving into new distance territories I took comfort from Murakami’s own struggles and the advice he gives for getting through them. The book is incredibly personal and at times very self-indulgent, although he is clear to make the point he is no expert on running and that the book serves as more of a memoir of his lead up to the Boston Marathon and re-starting triathlons. It was good to read, but unfortunately Pitcher’s Law of Hype (2009) applied, and it couldn’t rise above the recommendations and army of advocates pushing its credentials. On the plus side it only took about 90 minutes to read cover to cover, perfect for the plane journey from Djerba back to Luxembourg.