Friday, August 01, 2008

Just Finished Reading ...

With all due credit to Cyberkitten for his idea (and apologies, since mine will pale in comparison to his), I'm going to take a wack at reviewing a couple of my recent reads (check some of his out here):

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

Ostensibly about baseball and the economics that control player drafting and acquisition, Moneyball follows how a highly touted "golden boy" prospect, Billy Beane, went from a disappointment as a major leaguer to being one of the youngest major league General Managers and turned baseball convention on its ear.

Billy Beane and the A's ushered in the current era where you are just as likely to see a General Manager with a Harvard mathematics degree and no experience in baseball than by your classic "baseball guys". With a payroll a third or less of the big guns like the Yankees, the A's have been able to consistently go to the playoffs and have a profitable team. They did it by taking emotion, feeling and experience out of the job of picking players. By applying rationality and deep statistical analysis of all the minutiae of players, they were able to pick out undervalued players that weren't viewed as classic ballplayers because of the appearance, their age, whatever.

You can really take from the book an approach to certain life situations. Way too many people allow their ingrained prejudices (from religion, family, experience, etc.) to inform decisions where a rational, detached approach would serve their interests better.

I thought it was a great book and offers insights to people who don't even like baseball. I could especially see it useful in a business environment. Obviously, others agree as he's been called upon to advise others outside of baseball, including a software company and an MLS soccer team.


21: Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich

This is the book that the movie 21 was loosely based on. Over the last 20 or so years, a secret group of M.I.T. math geeks have been tearing it up in Vegas at the blackjack tables through a sophisticated counting procedure and elaborate team play with spotters, dummy players, etc. -- all filling roles benefiting the the team as a whole. Bringing Down the House is the true story of one of those groups.

Counting cards is not specifically illegal because you are not influencing which cards are dealt, but casinos are within their right to ask you to leave if they catching you doing it. And if they repeatedly catch you doing it, the level of intimidation and coercion that they will proceed with varies. The casinos will employee security companies and private investigators to determine who may be taking their money.

Again, much like in the previously mentioned Moneyball, attacking a problem with deep analysis and rationality allowed this group to succeed. And that methodology can extend beyond the gambling arena. The main subject of the book, Kevin Lewis (real name: Jeff Ma), has done consulting work with the Portland Trailblazers (NBA) and San Francisco 49ers (NFL).

It reads like fiction with suspense, action, violence and egos. A very good book that keeps you entertained and that I read in a relatively short time (a couple of days).


CyberKitten said...

dbackdad said: With all due credit to Cyberkitten for his idea (and apologies, since mine will pale in comparison to his), I'm going to take a wack at reviewing a couple of my recent reads..

[laughs]. Thanks *again* for the link back and the credit. It was only a very small idea and I'm more than happy for you to use it [grin].

The book on baseball doesn't interest me but '21' does. I thought the film was rather bland but it would be interesting reading about what really happened. Thanks for the tip.

wunelle said...

This latter book seems intriguing, if only because it showcases a talent--card playing OR numeric methodology--that I lack absolutely!