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Peter Compton

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Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
by Michael Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars the Oakland A's made a better and more efficient team, 9 May 2016
Another outstanding book from Michael Lewis. He writes so well that you feel he could write a shopping list ans captivate you from the first line.
This book is about baseball, but it is also and fundamentally about value. It is the story of how the Oakland A's beat the system by understanding how to correctly value baseball assets, how to buy the under-valued assets and how to sell at a profit over-valued assets. The assets in question were the players, but the analysis that enabled the valuation was based on what the players did and understanding the appropriate statistics.
Statistics have always existed in baseball. What the Oakland A's did was to decide that some statistics (and not necessarily those that had traditionally been regarded as the most important) were more valuable than others, and that what the relevant statistics were saying was more valuable than the hunches of scouts and even coaches.
There is clearly a lesson for all sports in books such as these. One of the main lessons for me is that by using the statistics correctly, the Oakland A's made a better and more efficient team. That team was not necessarily more exciting than other teams (but not less exciting either), but what it did was to win games with surprising regularity. As a fan of almost any sport I have ever watched, although I look for excitement, there is nothing better than supporting a team that is winning, and little more frustrating than watching a team play a beautiful game and still lose every week.
I fully understand the adverse reaction from within baseball to this book, which essentially came from people who preferred prejudice and hunches to a new and bold way of doing things. Such people exist in all sports bar none, but all sports need people like Billy Beane and Paul de Podesta, the two heroes of Moneyball, if they are going to evolve and survive.


The Cartel
The Cartel
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force, 31 Dec. 2015
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This review is from: The Cartel (Kindle Edition)
This is the sequel to The Power of the Dog, which I read just before The Cartel, so this review really covers both books.

In a similar fashion to how James Ellroy's Underworld USA trilogy brought to life some of the less attractive sides of American society and politics, and in particular some aspects of the US involvement in Vietnam that I had never considered, these two books give a completely different perspective to the War on Drugs to that portrayed in the mainstream media. As such, they are convincing and important, and demonstrate that what is called "the War on Drugs" is a geopolitical pawn that has been moved differently around the chessboard by successive US administrations, but which rarely sets out to achieve what it says it is trying to. Both of the books are marked by the almost relentless violence that one shoudl probably expect from stories centred on drug lords, and the overall message seems to be that there is little if any hope that any war on drugs can ever be successful.

An astonishing tour de force with an enormous scope, these are essential books if you are seeking to understand a key problem in American society.


Laidlaw (Laidlaw 1) (Laidlaw Trilogy)
Laidlaw (Laidlaw 1) (Laidlaw Trilogy)
by William McIlvanney
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding, important - crime fiction at its best, 31 Dec. 2015
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I had never heard of William McIlvanney until I read his obituary a few weeks ago. Since then, I have read all of the Laidlaw novels, and regret that the author is no longer with us to write any more.

These three novels are simply outstanding, on a number of different levels. Firstly (and I put this first because it is all too rare), the use of language borders on perfection. The books are a joy to read, they are clear, evocative, and avoid cliché.

They also have some very convincing characters, none of whom are black and white. Good meets evil and in turn that meets compromise and uncertainty in ways that reflect real life. Sure, there are good guys and bad guys, but everyone has rough edges, and the author's triumph is often to show us what makes the different people tick in the way that they do.

The whole depiction of Glasgow and of Laidlaw's particular form of policing is also compelling. The reader feels drawn into this world of darkness and light. One can clearly see how McIlvanney could have been a significant influence for other fine writers, such as Ian Rankin. If you have not yet read these, then now is the time to start


The Forty Rules of Love
The Forty Rules of Love
Price: £4.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I kept reading this essentially because I was interested in ..., 29 Jan. 2015
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I kept reading this essentially because I was interested in the parts about Sufism, about which I knew nothing. However, I have to wonder whether it was worth the effort. On the one hand, there is the story of Rumi and Shams, and a certain amount of pseudo-religious philosophy about Sufism, but intertwined with that, there is a Mills and Boon style romance between Ella, a North American Jewish housewife and her mysterious epistolary lover. That part is written in the style of Mills and Boon and is frankly even less believable than your average Mills and Boon. It just isn't worth the effort to keep wading through this kind of syrupy nonsense,


The Ghost
The Ghost
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Harris at the top of his game, 9 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: The Ghost (Kindle Edition)
This book tells the story of a ghost writer hired to write the autobiography of a former prime minister of the UK. The main criteria for electing this particular writer seem to be that (a) he can write and (b) he knows nothing about politics. However, without spoiling the plot, he finds out far more than he should, and the upshot is a nail biting thriller that I found it very hard to put down.
Robert Harris writes beautifully and develops the main characters very convincingly. This is a tremendous conspiracy theory novel, up there with the likes of the excellent The Dying Light by Henry Porter. Such theories are only interesting if the author can make them convincing, and Harris really succeeds. I also love the quality of his writing. Thoroughly recommended.


Solo: A James Bond Novel
Solo: A James Bond Novel
by William Boyd
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I really wanted to like this, but..., 9 Nov. 2013
I'm a big fan of William Boyd and also of the whole James Bond concept. I also like the idea that even after the death of Ian Fleming, other authors should seek to write adventures for James Bond, and I admire the courage of anyone who does. However...

I was pretty disappointed by Solo. As usual, William Boyd writes beautifully. However, for me there were two things that didn't really work. Firstly, Boyd is too keen right from the start to establish the "authenticity" of the character, whether it be in terms of what he is drinking, the brands he loves, etc. That is all well and good, but it is a bit too obvious. I also think that it makes Bond a rather more deep (I should probably say less superficial) character than I think he really is. The second thing, and I think it comes inevitably from the first is that there just isn't enough narrative drive, not enough bush bash bosh, and that at times the book becomes a bit boring as a result. It certainly is not a failure as a book. As I said, the writing is out of the top drawer, and I liked Bond's relationships with the two girls he gets involved with.

On the whole, however, I prefer the raffish devil-may-care Bond from the very early Fleming novels who spends all his time drinking, seducing women, escaping from baddies and saving the world.


The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (George Smiley Series Book 3)
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (George Smiley Series Book 3)
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A Greek Tragedy, 17 Sept. 2013
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I have just finished re-reading The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, having first read it about 25 years ago. In that time, the world has changed, and the cold war depicted by Le Carre is almost unimaginable to readers under the age of 40. However, none of that detracts from the sheer quality of the writing and thought in this outstanding novel.

The novel shows a world where there are no moral certainties and where even the smartest and most worldly wise characters can unexpectedly become victims. It shows that everything that anyone does in the story has consequences, often unexpected, and makes us ask the question of whether anyone can really be described as innocent.
Without wanting to spoil the plot, the book is elliptical in that the end has a certain similarity to the beginning, and this feature of the book's structure very appropriately reflects the tragic nature of what the cold war was all about.

The book also asks important questions - do the ends justify the means ? If we support a particular type of regime, how far are we prepared to go along with that ideology ? What is right and what is wrong ?

There are no easy answers, and Le Carre pushes the reader to reflect very carefully. It is difficult to overstate the importance and the excellence of this book.


Elizabeth I: The People's Queen?
Elizabeth I: The People's Queen?
Price: £4.64

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and different, 7 Feb. 2013
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I am a big fan of Hilary Mantel's novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, and have enjoyed acquiring a new perspective on the early Tudor period through that perspective. Liz Woodhouse's book takes us from the bith of Elizabeth until after her father's death and looks at things through a completely different perspective, that of Elizabeth's nurses and companions. The characterisation of the narrators is detailed and convincing. One can clearly imagine them with a young Elizabeth who clearly knew her own mind. The portraits are very affectionate, and one is easily drawn into this universe.
While I don't feel that this has the sheer quality of Mantel's writing (but very few books do), this is a very enjoyable read, and has a lot to bring. I particularly liked the way in which Woodhouse describes the way in which the question of the succession could affect Elizabeth and her half-sister Mary.
A very good read for anyone interested in the period.


Salvation of a Saint
Salvation of a Saint
Price: £5.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and one dimensional, 7 Feb. 2013
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Salvation of a Saint is a book that promised so much and delivered so little. Its USP is really that there is rather an intriguing murder method which only really becomes apparent at the end of the book, although there are some pretty strong hints earlier on. However, in order to get that far, the reader has to wade through about 200 pages of very ordinary writing - the characters are not only one-dimensional, they are almost universally unsympathetic. The reader knows who committed the murder about half way through the book, the only intrigue remains the question of how the murder was committed. The characterisation is flat and unconvincing, as are the relationships between the characters. My advice: don't waste time on this one.


The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods
The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods
by Hank Haney
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Haney's take on Woods, 28 Jan. 2013
Almost inevitably, Hank Haney's book about his years of coaching Tiger Woods reads rather like a defensive justification of himself, although I am sure that is not the writer's intention. However, this is a very good and thoughtful book, I would even say an important book.
Haney gives a detailed analysis of what he was trying to achieve with Woods, and reminds us that contrary to common beliefs, Woods had some very successful years while being coached by Haney, including 6 of his 14 majors. All of this is very interesting for golf lovers (such as myself), including the discussion of the eponymous "big miss", which was the wild hook into the rough or the trees on the left of the fairway.
However, what I believe makes the book more interesting is Haney's recurring theme that much of his coaching was aimed not necessarily at perfecting Woods's game, but at making Woods more consistently a winner. Haney argues that he achieved that by improving Woods's course management, and above all by reducing the number of times that Woods played shots that were more likely than not to get him into trouble.
The relationship, such as it was, between Haney and Woods, comes across as being difficult and in many ways paradoxical. At one level, there was of course the employer-employee relationship (although Haney does of course have other sources of employment and income). At another level, we see that both Woods and Haney referred to each other as friends (whether they still do is another matter), but their interactions very rarely seem friendly. Haney depicts Woods's working methods as being almost to provoke his coach into giving the right advice. He also shows that although Woods took on board much of the advice given by Haney, at the end of the day, Woods did what Woods wanted to do, including undergoing physically damaging training with Navy SEALS.
There is a lot to take away from this book. Although it is only Haney's side of the story, it is probably the only decent version we will ever get of those years, and it is a compelling portrait of how a great coach tried to deal with one of the greatest sportsmen of all time.


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