Tag Archives: non-fiction

Blind Man’s Bluff

Bling Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage (2000) by Sherry Sontag, Christopher Drew and Annette Lawrence Dew tells some of the story of the remarkable role played by US submarines in the Cold War.

The book starts by describing the changes of submarines after WWII with diesel boats that would remain underwater most of the time to nuclear powered boats that could remain underwater for long periods of time.

The book then gets into some of the exploits of the nuclear powered spying vessels that managed to find downed Soviet boats, find lost US nuclear weapons and to tap Soviet military undersea cables. It’s all pretty remarkable.

The book is a bit over the top though, every second US captain is a swarthy confront superiors type. There is little real detail about how quiet the boats are, from non US submariners I’ve heard that diesel boats are often quieter than nuclear boats, but nowhere is this sort of discussion in the book. Also if you’re not an American the jingoism is a little wearing. It’s also suggested that the US was following most Soviet missile boats, this doesn’t seem to be accurate, the Soviets seemed to have a fairly potent second strike ballistic missile submarine capability. The book itself has a ‘record’ trail. Presumably if these trails were rarely that long there was a lot of time when Soviet boats did do the same thing as US boomers.

For anyone interested in entertaining historical military tales the book has a lot going for it, as reflective history it’s far weaker. Still, it’s enjoyable and surely does provide some accurate information about the remarkable tale of submarines in the Cold War.

The Mixer

The Mixer: The Story of Premier League Tactics, from Route One to False Nines (2017) by Michael Cox is a book that look at the history of the Premier League and how tactics have evolved there. Michael Cox, according to Amazon and Goodreads, was an English biographer and prolific author who wrote many books and died in 2009. This means that the Mixer is possibly one of the best posthumous works on football. Alternatively the book may have been written by Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox who also appears on Football Weekly, the popular Guardian podcast that features some football in between debates on the worst Indiana Jones film.

The book goes through the whole of the Premier League, starting in 1992 with the changes to the back pass rule to goalkeepers. Cox states that at the time English football was not in great shape. This does miss the fact that in Italia 90 England had their second best World Cup performance and if they had trained for penalties properly they could potentially have been world champions. However, Cox is definitely correct in saying that English football wasn’t tactically particularly sophisticated.

Cox points out that in 1992 there were only 13 players who were not from Britain or Ireland in the league. 25 years later there were about that many foreign managers. Cox sites Cantona as one of the first big changers of English Football. Rather than just running around enthusiastically Cantona played very skillfully and intelligently between the backline and the midfield of the opposition, drawing defenders, creating space and passing to others who were exploiting that space. Following Cantona Blackburn won the League with SAS – Sutton and Shearer and pace and simplicity.

More foreigners came into the league in the 1990s and changed how teams were playing. Berkamp and Zola are particularly notable. Arsene Wenger then appeared and changed Premier League coaching by dramatically improving the health and fitness of his players and promptly won the League heralding more changes in the Premier League. Also the Bosman ruling changed the number of foreign players that could be fielded in all the European Leagues. In 1999 for the first a Chelsea team was fielded that featured no English players in the starting line up. Ten years later a game would be played with no Englishmen at all in either team.

Following Wenger came progress in Europe and more foreign managers, but also Sam Allardyce playing direct football. Playing only a single striker but with other attacking players became more common. Arsenal’s Invincibles showed just how well football could be played.

More foreign coaches included Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez who brought their successful footballing philosophies to England. The midfielders Makélélé altered tactics with the way he played.

Following a slight defensive turn Rooney and Ronaldo changed how attacking football was played, reducing the role of just pure strikers. But in other parts of the League crafty use of long throws and set pieces by Stoke again altered what teams would have to face. Inverted wingers, like Robben and Ribery also changed the role of wingers in football.

Possession football, emulating Barcelona came to England, as did the new role of ‘false nine’. Post possession counter attacking football, as played skillfully in an incredible season by Leicester appeared. Back threes re-appeared and were successful in the most recent Premier League season with Chelsea under Antonio Conte. But still the English push for ‘second balls’ remained in the Premier League.

Cox also points out that while the best teams in Europe are mostly in Spain that the best managers in the world now call England home and points out that the top seven managers in the Premier League in 2017 came from seven different countries.

Possibly this book is the start of a great series of posthumous sporting books and we can look forward to Kurt Vonnegut on the epic Warriors Cavaliers NBA finals. Alternatively this may be Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox writing a fantastic history of the Premier League. The book is very well written and it’s fascinating for anyone who is interested in football and the Premier League. The analysis of changing tactics and the personalities involved in English Football is really top notch. It’s one of the best football books I’ve ever read.

 

Everybody Lies

Everybody Lies (2017) by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is an interesting look at how big data gleaned from the internet can give us a better picture of what people are really like. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz (SSD) did a PhD in economics using search terms from the internet. After his PhD SSD worked at Google. He’s clearly seen a lot of data and thought about it and found a lot of interesting stuff.

The book emphasizes that what people say in public and put on Facebook isn’t what they are thinking. The dramatic use of racist search terms and their locations when President Obama was elected gave a great correlation for where Donald Trump would do well. People say how great their spouses are on Facebook, then they search for why they aren’t having sex with them on google. People outright lie about how many condoms they are using, with both sexes exaggerating substantially.

The book refers frequently to Freakonomics and Steven Levitt and the author states and shows his admiration for the work of Levitt and the way he looks for interesting data.

There are some other interesting observations about violent films and crime, which someone will hopefully soon extend to violent video games and some interesting notes on selective schools. There is even some things on the most unread books around.

The book makes the point that social science and literary studies have a fantastic new source of great data in big data. It’s an interesting and seemingly valid point.

It’s not a bad book and it would be hard to go through without learning something. SSD writes well and there are some fun facts on the way. It’s not great, but well worth a look.

The Eighties: A Bitchen Time To Be a Teenager!

The Eighties: A Bitchen Time To Be a Teenager! (2012) by Tom Harvey is a memoir of growing up in the 1980s with enough pop culture references to keep anyone who remember the era happy.

Harvey recounts the story of him growing up and living through his teenage years in the 1980s and moving around. There’s some real tragedy in the book that seems to have not affected Harvey greatly in his life, instead he seems to have come through his life really well. The book is surprisingly interesting. Harvey manages to make his life interesting and keeps the pace moving well. The book is also pretty funny in parts.

Not a bad read for anyone who is feeling nostalgic and wants an interesting life story to accompany remembrances of safety dances past.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (2016) by Mark Manson is a self-help book with a clever title. It’s not terrible, indeed the first and last bits are really quite good.

Manson makes the point that we really have to not care about a lot of things to actually be able to care for a few things that matter to us. And he makes the point quite well with some sweary language. Having done this the book really sags and drags though until near the end where it perks up a little.

It’s strange to see that there are so many really positive reviews for this book. It’s not bad, but it’s far from great. Perhaps Manson’s blog is pretty popular and he’s had people who like him from there review it.

Why Information Grows:

Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies (2015) by Cesar A. Hidalgo is a somewhat interesting book that tries to explain how information explains similarities between statistical physics and economics. Hidalgo is a statistical physicist who now works at MIT’s Media Lab. No doubt he is fantastically clever. Hidalgo has also produced some really interesting visualisations of the complexity of economies.

The book starts by looking at atoms and how complexity and information arises in these circumstances. He points out the interesting idea that we live in a world with incredibly complex organisms despite the fact that entropy always increases. Then Hidalgo suggests that these analogies extend to DNA and then on to economies. He mentions how companies and economies enable people to produce things that are far more complex than one person could possibly manage on their own. He points out the importance of tacit knowledge in firms and how making complex machines requires huge amounts of this. He shows how rich economies usually export a range of items that includes simpler items but that poorer ones rarely export complex items.

The book isn’t bad. It’s worth a read, but the main point it is trying to make isn’t really carried. Analogies between economics and other fields often don’t really work and this is one them. However, the journey provides quite a few rewards.

 

Girt

Girt (2013) by David Hunt is a humorous look at early Australian history as far as the early 19th century.

Apparently the book is pretty well researched. It’s also quite amusing. The jokes tend to be a bit heavy handed though. It’s full of interesting anecdotes and facts as well. So it’s easy, amusing reading that has a lot of information on just how corrupt, drunk and disorganised it all was.

It’s a fun read and would be well worth giving to high school students who think Australian history is dull.