Moneyball, by Michael Lewis (Norton: 2003) A non-fiction book following the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics (a major league baseball team) for a year
A book . About baseball. Combining two things in my life that I spend perhaps too much time on, and so probably an apt choice as the first GBR review.
First off, let’s get one thing straight. I loved this book. Really, I did. But, in the spirit of GBR, I have to think about whether or not you will love it. And that’s a bit less clear.
I never really held much weight with the “jack of all trades, master of none” principle. There are enough hours in the day and days in a life to spend on any number of trades. And there are a lot that, let’s face it, aren’t that difficult to master. And so when this book purported to be a good baseball book, a good business book, and a good read all in one, I had no problem believing that it could be all three. Having read it, I’m not sure it mastered all its promised spheres though.
Let’s (quickly) take them one by one.
A good business book? Lewis does well to take some of the ways in which the Athletics are managed and make transferrable business principles out of them. But I have a central problem with business books, a problem that Moneyball failed to solve. Most of them have one very good principle, and then put 100,000 words behind that principle to make a book out of it. Few people would, after all, buy a “business booklet”, so the point needs to be stretched if it’s to be monetised. And Moneyball certainly stretched the business lesson it was preaching. Its one (albeit very good) lesson can be summed up thus: find an undervalued asset, buy it, exploit it, and then once its success (achieved under your watchful eye) renders it overpriced, sell it. There. I just did it in 23 words. Moneyball did it in 304 pages.
A good read? Well, Moneyball has more success here. It’s a non-fiction book, and most non-fiction books struggle to live up to the kind of compelling narrative that novelists have the luxury of. But Michael Lewis has done a good job of filling Moneyball with enough little twirls of storyline to keep you interested and entertained. It even has something of an arc, almost resembling a plot, that is often difficult to find in a non-fiction book. But that’s where it falls down. When I consider what Moneyball is competing against for your time, it stumbles. When I imagine your choice between another episode of Law & Order, or a fast paced novel designed purely to entertain, or Moneyball, I find it hard to recommend the book. A well written non-fiction book, certainly, but outside of that context, it struggles to measure up.
How about a good baseball book? Abso-bloody-lutely. Not a single doubt about that. This is a fantastic (perhaps even the best) baseball book. Full of insights into the game and the business of baseball. Full of characters that any baseball fan will love. Full of stats lovingly explained. Full of...well...just full of baseball.
So would I recommend it to you as something worthy of your time? If you’re a baseball fan, then 100% yes. But I suspect the majority of you are not baseball fans. And so, however much I loved this book, it fails to score highly on the GBR scale, (which, after all, takes into account only whether or not this is a book that you should make time in your life for).
I loved it, but nevertheless, it scores a mediocre...
5 GBR (out of 10, that is...)
Wow, that felt bad, like I’ve just told a pretty girl she’s ugly. I’m off to have a cold shower.