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William Johnson "Bill Johnson AKA MeisterZinger" RSS Feed (White Rock, NM USA)

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It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: The Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book
It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: The Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book
by Baseball Prospectus
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.95
114 used & new from $0.01

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great content, lousy editing, November 2, 2007
This latest book from the baseball statistical wizards at continues what has become a pattern with Baseball Prospectus printed matter: absolutely first-rate analysis of baseball's most interesting subjects, compromised by an editing job that would make a high-school English class retch.

The good part first. Steve Goldman and his Baseball Prospectus colleagues examine the tightest pennant races in (US) major-league baseball history and try to help us understand why those races worked out as they did. Their studies are not only statistical, as usual for BP products, but also historical and personal, and the whole package "works" -- the reader can see not only how so many races were swung by human error (for example, inability to build a roster soundly, a persistent BP theme), but also *why* the errors came about, one of those things that a purely statistical analysis can't accomplish, and an example of how the self-styled chewing-gum-and-tobacco "analysts" underestimate the BP crowd. Some standard BP prejudices are evident, for example tendency to dismiss the running game as inconsequential (fair enough in the era of power baseball, but not so obvious in the pitcher-friendly 60s and 80s) and belief that Dick Allen belongs in the Hall of Fame (this reviewer, who's old enough to remember what a mess he made of his teams, disagrees strenuously). On the whole, however, the analysis is excellent, well-integrated, thought-provoking, and well worth a read, at least if you don't mind long tables of statistics.

Unfortunately, the editing job is so poor that there are places where reading the analysis is frustrating. Somebody really needs to teach these people to spell, or at least to hire editor/proofreaders who can. It's bad enough when the names of key figures are misspelled, for example the persistent reference to "Denny McClain" as a 1960s-vintage Detroit Tiger; Denny McLain, no second "C", was the real Tiger, and a book on baseball history should get things like that right, although maybe a non-specialist editor might miss it. But ANY editor should be able to get chapter titles spelled correctly. When I got to the chapter on the demise of the Yankees dynasty (to be sure, a fun read from the standpoint of content) and saw that its title persistently appeared as "Tyranicide" (sic), all I could do was gag, and wonder what other typos had crept in to compromise the actual content.

On balance, I do recommend this book; its strengths outweigh its weaknesses, and you won't get meatier analysis. But somebody PLEASE get these folks some editorial help!
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 5, 2011 11:57 PM PST

The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History
The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History
by Molly Caldwell Crosby
Edition: Hardcover
145 used & new from $0.01

20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A decent first effort, February 13, 2007
This is the first book by a young author from Memphis, Tennessee, and while not without shortcomings, it's a better start than most. Crosby describes some key moments in our fight against this nasty disease, starting with a general overview, moving to the ghastly epidemic that devastated Memphis, then to the scene of the critical triumph in Cuba, and finally to the contemporary world and the potential that yellow fever has for a breakout. Along the way she conveys a good sense of what her home town was like in the 1870s, as well as the hardships faced by the medical staff and volunteers in Cuba. The book is as much a peek into life in some highly stressed places as a medical story.

Crosby's random jumping from scene to scene, however, creates a sense of disjointedness that detracts from the book's interest. One gets the impression that what she really wanted to write was a book about "Memphis," not one about yellow fever. This is entirely fine, and choosing to focus on Memphis as plague city certainly establishes a niche for her product. But how does it connect to the scene in Cuba where the seeds of the fever's defeat are first sown? There have been far more comprehensive treatments of Walter Reed's operation there, and Crosby contributes nothing new and notable, nor does she tie Reed's work strongly back to the subject that is obviously her passion. Quite possibly she felt obliged to include this material simply to make the text long enough to interest a publisher; it's not hard to imagine that her researches had pretty thoroughly mined out the information available on Memphis during the plague years, and it wasn't enough for a stand-alone book. However, continuity would have been better if, for example, she had done just a bit more work on the other epidemics that occurred between the Memphis catastrophe and the triumph in Cuba.

The above criticism sounds harsher than it is intended to be. This is by no means a bad book; rather, it's quite a good one that is worth reading for those with an interest in either the disease or the city, and it has its definite moments of drama and eloquence. Crosby should be congratulated for taking on this subject, and we can reasonably expect that she'll learn from her mistakes here and produce works on comparably interesting subjects as she grows as an author.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 9, 2016 4:37 AM PDT

In a Sunburned Country
In a Sunburned Country
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Hardcover
286 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute blast!, March 14, 2005
This review is from: In a Sunburned Country (Hardcover)
Bill Bryson may be the funniest travel writer alive, and by consensus of my entire family, this travelogue of his Australian voyages is one of his best. I don't know if I've ever laughed as hard at a book as I did at this one, starting practically at page one and going all the way to the end -- to name one (slightly crude) example, the section on his recovery from jet lag, and what happens when he sleeps, left me literally clutching my sides from laughing. However, this book isn't just funny; it's also "fun" and informative. The man loves his subject (admittedly, Australia is easy to love) and does his homework, whether delving into curious bits of historical trivia or exploring the exotic critters that roam the Australian outback. (Example: his story of the preposterous discovery of the proto-ant "Nothomyrmecia," while cast in terms both humorous and colorful, checks out with some of the scientific literature I consulted.) There are moments of hyperbole, of course (for example, in his descriptions of the outback's venomous denizens, from which you'd infer they can kill you in your tracks with just a malevolent glance), but that's to be expected; after all, this is a book of humor, not of science.

Overall, a terrific read that we recommend without hesitation. If you have any interest at all in Australia, buy this book, convulse over it for a while, and follow in Bryson's footsteps.

If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens ... WHERE IS EVERYBODY?: Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life
If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens ... WHERE IS EVERYBODY?: Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life
by Stephen Webb
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.98
69 used & new from $4.36

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A romp through astrobiology, but a little too much fluff, October 16, 2004
The 21st century looks to be an era of interdisciplinary science: a meeting ground of physicists, biologists, astronomers, and even philosophers to attack problems that defy study within one narrowly-defined field. There is probably no scientific question that attracts interest from a wider cross section of scientists than the Fermi Paradox -- "Where Is Everybody?" -- that is the subject of this book.

Webb does a fine job here of summarizing some of the thinking on this question over the last ten or twenty years, but the effect is spoiled somewhat by his overreliance on fluffy, fantastic "answers" to bring his total number of answers up to a nice round figure that looks good on a book title. The sections based on real science are generally very good indeed; one can find here introductions to some of the relevant issues in at a dozen different sciences packaged in a way that demonstrates nicely how they interrelate. My interest in several of his areas is that of a professional, and I certainly couldn't have written a better introduction myself; I therefore fully appreciate the polymathic skills Webb needed to bring to bear, in order to examine not only the solutions I know something about but all of his others that are equally skillfully outlined. Yet to mingle these bits of sound (if introductory) science with the "hypothesis" that the aliens are really living among us as Hungarians (an inside Los Alamos/Manhattan Project joke revolving around Teller, von Neumann, etc.) makes his valid hypotheses appear more trivial than they are.

This reservation aside, I definitely recommend this book, as long as the reader can tolerate a mingling of lay science with whimsy. It packages well with "Rare Earth" by Ward and Brownlee, a rather more serious study that follows one of Webb's solutions through to its pessimistic -- and disturbing -- conclusion. Get them both and get a taste of how science in the 21st century will work!

A Chess Omnibus
A Chess Omnibus
by Edward Winter
Edition: Paperback
30 used & new from $3.65

11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fun Internet sites don't always make great books, October 16, 2004
This review is from: A Chess Omnibus (Paperback)
Edward Winter is familiar to on-line students of chess history through his long-running column at This book continues the tradition of chess scholarship he has shown there and in his similar book "Kings, Commoners and Knaves," but this time the effect, sad to say, is beginning to wear old. The problem is not that the material is ill-researched -- quite the contrary, it's as meticulously turned out as usual for Winter -- or uninteresting -- that's in the eye of the beholder. In all simplicity, it's that snippets and sound bites may be fine for a web site, but they don't make for a very good book. The free-ranging, vignette-oriented style characteristic of Winter's on-line column does not translate well into book form, creating a work that is disjointed to the point of being hard to read.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 8, 2010 1:48 PM PDT

Paths to Glory (H)
Paths to Glory (H)
by Mark L. Armour
Edition: Hardcover
37 used & new from $0.21

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but not what it says it is, February 15, 2004
This review is from: Paths to Glory (H) (Hardcover)
I got this book on the recommendation of some baseball pundits that I respect greatly (the Baseball Prospectus crowd), but to be honest, I found it somewhat disappointing. The problem isn't poor scholarship (it's first-rate) nor inferior sabermetrics (the analytical approach is sound) nor any other quibbles with the findings. Rather, it's that the content is something rather different than the title implies: rather than discussing "how great baseball teams got that way," which would indeed be a fascinating subject, it digresses into two much less interesting topics.
The first ill-advised topical digression is that it rarely really talks about "great" baseball teams, at least not dynastic ones (with significant exceptions in sections on the Oakland A's of the 1970s and the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s, both of which are excellent analyses). Instead too much time is spent not just on near-misses but on one-shot wonders that never got close to real greatness. I mean, the 1924 Washington Senators may have been a great human-interest story (after all, the immortal Walter Johnson finally got his ring...), but a "great" team? Hardly, and they never had a realistic chance to be great. Too many other chapters follow this pattern of looking at the wrong teams, and not for want of subject material -- where were the discussions of the blue-smoke-and-mirrors St. Louis Cardinals of the 1960s or 1980s, the great Koufax/Drysdale/Los Angeles pitching juggernauts, and above all, the post-WWII Yankees? The subject of this book simply was not as advertised.
Second, to report *that* a thing occurred is not the same as to say *how* it occurred, much less *why*. Practically all of this book's case studies are long on data but short on analysis, and particularly short on conclusions that address the question promised in the title. Lacking such a focus, too many of the chapters don't provide much insight beyond what can be gained in the superficial team histories of a Palmer/Thorn "Total Baseball." The authors promised more, and should have delivered it.
These concerns aside, there is much to like here. The explanation of statistical techniques is excellent work, a number of historical trends in baseball are skillfully discussed, and the appendices are full of useful information. I would therefore still give "Paths to Glory" a qualified thumbs up for the thoughtful baseball fan, as long as that fan doesn't expect total fidelity to the title, or to the expectation that the "why" questions in this most beautiful of sports are going to be answered to the reader's satisfaction.

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