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Baseball is a game of decisions, both on the field and off it. And when we talk about Major League Baseball, well – there are A LOT of choices that need to be made. Whether we’re talking about in-game strategy or front office maneuvering, the sport is rife with opportunities to make decisions.

But how do we know if they’re the right ones? How do we know if we’re truly making optimal choices or if we’re being guided (or misguided) by subconscious belief systems and biases of which we may not even be fully aware?

Answers to those questions are among the many things that Keith Law is delving into with his new book “The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Moves, and What Baseball Behavior Teaches Us About Ourselves” (William Morrow, $28.99). It’s an effort to make accessible the behavioral science behind the inherent biases that can impact our decisions, baseball or otherwise.

By walking us through the conscious and unconscious influences that impact how baseball works, Law gives us a new perspective on the intricacies of the sport – a perspective that matches the more data-driven and analytically-inclined model followed by 21st century practitioners of the game.

Published in Sports

If you’ve ever paid a visit to one of this country’s National Parks, you know that there is a surfeit of awe-inspiring natural wonder in the U.S., albeit one that is perhaps not given quite the degree of respect that it deserves. It’s hard to imagine standing in one of these majestic places and not feeling overwhelmed by its beauty.

Now imagine doing that for ALL OF THEM.

That’s Conor Knighton’s travel guide/memoir “Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-To-Zion Journey Through Every National Park” (Crown, $28), a book whose subhead is both accurate and insufficient. Knighton, a correspondent for “CBS This Morning,” does precisely what he says – he goes to every single National Park (though a couple more have been established since his 2016 trip.

Zigzagging through the country over the course of the year – sometimes with his sage photographer sidekick, often alone – Knighton offers up a loving look at our national natural pride. But it’s an internal journey as well, with Knighton also spending this time dealing with the aftermath of his breakup from his fiancée and other personal turmoil.

Published in Adventure

I love crossword puzzles. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve found real joy in solving those black-and-white grids. From the daily newspaper to collections in books to online sources, I’ve been a cruciverbalist for most of my life.

But I’m far from the only person out there with a devotion to the joyous wordplay that comes with crosswords, spending a portion of just about every day working my way across and down, filling in the blanks and feeling the satisfaction of a finished puzzle. Millions of people engage with crosswords every day, though we all have our routines – some solve at breakfast, others as a break during the day; some solve on their commutes, others in the evening to bring their day to an end. Maybe it’s intellectual engagement they seek. Perhaps a competitive thrill. Regardless, it ultimately boils down to love of the game.

Adrienne Raphel loves crosswords as well. She loves them so much, in fact, that she went ahead and wrote a book about them. “Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them” (Penguin Press, $27) is a thoughtful and in-depth look at a hobby that has been occupying minds for over a century. Through a combination of historical research and first-person experience, Raphel takes the reader on an engaging and entertaining stroll across and down the cross-world.

Published in Style

When I first heard about “The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball's Afterlife” (University of Nebraska Press, $27.95) by Brad Balukjian, my reaction was pure and basic: “God, that’s a f---ing good idea.”

Even after a decade-plus of literary reviews, I can count on one hand the times that I was legitimately envious of the idea behind a book. Not necessarily the best books or the most interesting books, but the ones with an underlying premise that spoke directly to me.

“The Wax Pack” is one of those.

Balukjian, a lifelong baseball fan, undertook a simple, yet deeply fascinating adventure. He bought a pack of Topps baseball cards from 1986, the year he got into collecting. He popped the decades-old gum into his mouth and flipped through the 15 cards, regaling himself with ghosts of seasons past. And then, he packed up his life and embarked on an epic road trip, a cross-country voyage in which he hoped to make contact with the players he found when he peeled the paper from the titular wax pack.

The result is something unexpected, a thoughtful exploration of fandom that also serves as a glimpse of the different directions a faded athlete might go. And in the process of delving into this sports-loving memory hole, Balukjian himself becomes more present, undertaking an effort to look back at his own history.

Published in Sports

At first glance, the disciplines of science and philosophy would seem to be mostly distinct. To put it simply, science is about considering how the world works, while philosophy is about considering why the world works the way it does. Again, an oversimplified explanation, but close enough.

What the two share, however, is that deep-seated desire to unpack the secrets of the universe. And in some cases, the line of demarcation can become considerably more difficult to find.

In “The Dream Universe: How Fundamental Physics Lost Its Way” (Doubleday, $26.95), author David Lindley posits that in the bleeding edge world of theoretical physics, that line is all but erased. He walks the reader through a quick-hit history of science and how our conception of what “science” even is has evolved from the philosophical beginnings of the Greeks, growing into something observationally and experimentally based over the centuries, only to relatively recently push so far into the theoretical realm as to circle back round to its thought-driven underpinnings.

That might sound a bit heavy, but Lindley has a real gift for narrative; it’s rare for science writing – even pop science aimed at a broad audience – to be this readable and engaging. Lindley pushes us through the history of science via a handful of touchstone figures, giving us a crash course of sorts. From the early work of Galileo up through the pure-math musings of today’s physics giants, we’re along for the ride.

Published in Tekk

“Oh great,” you groan. “Another book about Winston Churchill. Just what the world needs.”

I’ll concede that those feelings are understandable. We’ve all been through the whole finest hour thing more times than we can count; it’s a story that anyone with any interest in history has at least a passing knowledge of. Untold reams of paper and gallons of ink have been devoted to the life and work of the noted statesman; while no one can argue Churchill’s historical significance, it’s also easy to assume that everything that needed saying has already been said.

All true, yes. But conversely – Erik Larson hadn’t yet said his piece. Until now.

The bestselling historian – author of acclaimed works such as “Thunderstruck,” “Dead Wake” and “The Devil in the White City” – has turned his narrative gifts and powers of insight onto the Prime Minister with “The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz” (Crown, $32). Far from the dusty doorstop of a book you might expect, “The Splendid and the Vile” is an example of Larson at his best.

Meticulously, exhaustively researched and told with Larson’s usual deftness of prose, this account of Churchill’s first year – from his being named prime minister on May 10, 1940 up through April of 1941 – is an intense close-read of the man’s life. It’s an almost day-by-day accounting of how that first year was spent, both through Churchill himself and through those closest to him – his staff, his friends and his family.

Published in Style

It goes without saying that there is a rich political history tied to the presidency of the United States. Every U.S. president has brought something significant to the table with regards to the political landscape of our country.

But have you ever considered the literary impact our chief executives have had?

That consideration is the foundation of Craig Fehrman’s new book “Author in Chief: The Untold Story of our Presidents and the Books They Wrote” (Avid Reader Press, $30). It’s a years-long undertaking packed with an incredible depth of research and thoughtful analysis, all of it devoted to exploring the literary output of our presidents.

Fehrman walks us through the entirety of American history, exploring the books written by (or at least credited to) our presidents from George Washington all the way up through Donald Trump. It’s a chance to look at these historical titans through the lens of the words they themselves put down on paper. And really, what better way to gain insight into their inner lives and thoughts?

Published in Style

Are we alone in the universe?

Simple math would seem to indicate that we are not; what are the odds that Earth is alone among an infinite number of planets in producing intelligent life? And yet, we have yet to encounter these other intelligences in any verifiable way.

So … where is everyone?

That’s part of the question being tackled by Keith Cooper’s new book “The Contact Paradox: Challenging our Assumptions in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence” (Bloomsbury Sigma, $28). It’s a look at the decades-long history of SETI – the Search for Extraterrestrial Life – and a deep dive into some of the presuppositions that we as humans have placed on that search. Through conversations with leading experts and long digressions into not just hard science, but fields such as sociology, anthropology and psychology, Cooper considers what it means to want to talk to the stars – and what it might mean were they ever to talk back.

Published in Tekk
Tuesday, 03 December 2019 13:58

Word on a wing – ‘Bowie’s Bookshelf’

Confession time: I assume that I can determine what kind of person you are by looking at your bookshelf. It’s true. I will walk into your house for the first time, seek out any and all bookshelves (within socially acceptable parameters, of course) and make sweeping generalizations about who you are.

Anyone who spends serious time with books believes that much can be gleaned about a person by the books with which they choose to surround themselves. We are what we read. That’s true of us regular folks, but it’s also true of the creative giants who walk among us. Much can be learned about the artist through the art they consume.

Artists like the late David Bowie.

Veteran music journalist John O’Connell has written a book that grants us the next best thing to poking around Bowie’s personal library. “Bowie’s Bookshelf: The Hundred Books that Changed David Bowie’s Life" (Gallery, $18) offers up snapshot looks at the literary works that most inspired Bowie, from his early days through the end of his life. Through brief essays, O’Connell builds some connective tissue between the artist and the books on this list.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 12 November 2019 12:48

‘Genuine Fakes’ keeps it real

What is real? What is fake? What do those terms even mean? Is there some kind of gray area in between? And what about authenticity? Is that the same thing? Can something be real without being authentic? Or authentic without being real?

That idea of what is real is the central tenet of Lydia Pyne’s new book “Genuine Fakes: How Phony Things Teach Us About Real Stuff” (Bloomsbury Sigma, $28). Through an exploration of eight different objects that land somewhere in that blurry place between real and fake, Pyne offers readers a chance to consider what the differences might be.

Too often, we allow ourselves to be conditioned to believe that there are two choices: real and not-real. But the world is far too complex to be governed by that sort of yes/no binary – authenticity depends on one’s perspective.

What Pyne does with “Genuine Fakes” is offer up examples that point up the malleability of authenticity; what is and is not real isn’t always set in stone. And just because something comes to be through methods different than the norm, does that make it fake? Or just a different kind of real? It’s a legitimately fascinating read, well-researched and packed with detail – the sort of book that will surprise and delight the intellectually curious.

Published in Style
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