What are you reading?

Ten years after the 2011 publication of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, the New York Times’ Joe Lemire wrote about how it’s worked its way into just about every MLB front office.

Which makes sense. I picked up Thinking, Fast and Slow because Larry wrote a post on South Side Sox about its application to baseball back in December 2013, and while it’s broadly applicable to snap judgments and more deliberate forms of decision-making, it indeed applies to an unusual amount of baseball discussions, thanks to the sport’s blend of observational reactions and economic concerns. Keith Law wrote an entire book about it, and we had a book club discussion about it.

Seeing the impact of Thinking, Fast and Slow on my rapid and deliberate reactions, I ordered his follow-up book Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment, which he coauthored with Olivier Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein.

(Disclaimer: Links to books are Bookshop.org affiliate links; Sox Machine receives a portion of the proceeds, as do independent bookstores.)

There are similarities to Thinking, as one might expect. It can be dense and require close reading in order to keep the specific forms of noise separate. I had to put the book down on a plane because I kept getting clipped on the shoulder by flight attendants and the guy doing khaki calisthenics in the aisle. The latter third of the book is also guided more towards leaders of organizations, which I didn’t find particularly relevant and slowed my completion of the book, but might hold more use for managers who are interested in conducting noise audits.

That said, there are individual benefits to zeroing in on noise, which the authors define as “unwanted variability in judgments.” While a GM might only get one shot at solving right field for a season, you can reduce some of that “unwanted variability” by pretending that it’s one of a series of similar decisions (and when it comes to the White Sox and right fielders, it very much is). Likewise, if you can’t get an outside, impartial second opinion on what you hope your favorite team accomplished, you can clarify your own thinking by coming up with the most different yet plausible outcome, which might nullify skewed thinking from moods or hope.

The Offseason Plan Project came to mind multiple times. It turns out I’ve been trying to diminish noise when I’ve urged the community to avoid knocking a contributor for a plan that isn’t cohesive or possible, because there might be one idea or fresh name worth considering.

However, if I were to truly prioritize the elimination of noise, I wouldn’t allow the architects to see any prior entries. As Kahneman, Sibony and Sunstein write:

Aggregating judgments can be an excellent way of reducing noise, and therefore error. But what happens if people are listening to one another? You might well think that their doing so is likely to help. After all, people can learn from one another and thus figure out what is right. Under favorable circumstance, in which people share what they know, deliberating groups can indeed do well. But independence is a prerequisite for wisdom of the crowds. If people are not making their own judgments and are relying instead on what other people think, crowds might not be so wise at all.

It’d be fascinating to release 100-plus plans at once to see how it affects the amount of variance and creativity of the plans. Given how wrong any of us can be, it probably makes sense to try minimizing the effect of what one well-respected member of the Sox Machine community’s plan might have on others who are relying on their judgment. However, there’s also collaborative value in building off an idea you like. Also, that would undermine another purpose of the Offseason Plan Project, which is that it gives me a week or so to recharge my batteries. Tough noogies, noise hygiene.

If you had to read one Kahneman book or another, I’d go with Thinking, Fast and Slow 10 times out of 10. But if you loved that book and you’re responsible for the decisions and judgments of an organization, consider Noise a decision-science booster shot. If you might not get that kind of use out of it, borrowing it might be a better route.

* * * * * * * * *

I was in a bit of a reading slump over the first half of 2021, knocking out a novel and a memoir I thought were merely OK, and starting and stopping a biography of Thomas Edison that was a little too dry.

Back when Keith Law joined us on the Sox Machine Podcast, he cited Susanna Clarke’s Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange as one of his favorite novels when recommending her newer, shorter book, Piranesi. In the comments on the podcast, John in SF echoed the sentiments for Mr. Norrell. When I went to Parnassus Books, the bookseller urged me to go with Mr. Norrell if I could put my mind to it.

So I did.

The paperback version of Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange I purchased is 846 pages, which has to be the longest work of fiction I’ve ever read. It exercised a different part of my brain. I’ve read longer works of nonfiction, but when you’re 200 pages in about a president or a historical event, you generally know the chronology that’s left to be covered over the final 600. When you’ve read 200 pages of a novel, the second character in the title has yet to be fleshed out, and there are still three-quarters of the story to go, it requires a little more trust in the author.

A story about rival magicians in 19th-century England isn’t quite in my wheelhouse, and so there were a few things that tested my patience. By design, Mr. Norrell is the far less compelling of the two magicians in the title. It makes sense that he appears first and establishes the status quo, but you also have to hang with it, hoping the story gets more exciting. Also, a lot of the quotes are “exclaimed” or “cried,” which is a little grating in the way my mind processes dialogue.

But once I got to the second of third volumes, the story finally generated a momentum that overpowered my initial skepticism. It reminded me of Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which impressed me for its imagination and world-building. Clarke goes even further, with entire blocks of asides in footnotes I largely opted out of, mostly because I didn’t think getting further in the weeds was the smart move when I wasn’t convinced I would finish it.

It turns out I had no problem completing it. When you get four recommendations in three different contexts, I suppose it’d be surprising if they all were wrong.

View Sox Machine’s Bookshop.org page for more recommended reads.

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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calcetinesblancos
MarketMaker

If you want to dip a toe in, I highly recommend folks sign up for Matt Stoller’s newletter BIG. He basically writes regular short- to medium-length essays on how monopolistic behavior (alongside the insidiousness of private equity and McKinsey-like consulting) are undermining so much of what we do. Really eye-opening as it helps explain why some things are broken and essentially can’t be fixed because the powers that be won’t allow it.

calcetinesblancos

One thing you can always count on from the American public is to make a big deal about inconsequential bullshit while ignoring important things that affect them negatively on a daily basis.

LamarHoyt_oncrack

“But independence is a prerequisite for wisdom of the crowds. If people are not making their own judgments and are relying instead on what other people think, crowds might not be so wise at all.”

Indeed. George Carlin said “never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups”. Sometimes what we think we know is often the barrier to true understanding.

Ted Mulvey

I really enjoyed Piranesi, and I have the Keith Law interview to thank for that. (Full disclosure, I also liked Jonathan Strange, but the two are different). I’ve been on a fiction kick recently, and here are some preferred titles:

-The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue;
-The Starless Sea;
-Project Hail Mary;
-The Just City.

In more sobering non-fiction:

The Land of Open Graves: Living and dying on the migrant trail (Jason De Leon)

The Ends of the World (Peter Brannen)

And pop non-fiction:

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles (Jennifer 8. Lee)

Greg Nix

I really enjoyed Project Hail Mary. Better than The Martian, imo.

Ted Mulvey

Agreed!

hitlesswonder

I’m reading A Gentleman in Moscow It’s very good so far.

Also, I read it a while ago, but a book that’s been on mind in is Matterhorn I thought is was excellent…one of the best books about war that I’ve read.

Alex Schmidt

Really really enjoyed Susanna Clarke’s new book ‘Piranesi’. Briefer than ‘Strange & Norrell’ and extra fascinating in a lockdown.

ParisSox

Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Friend by Christopher Moore. Published in 2002.

I’m not religious and don’t know much about Christianity, but thought it was absolutely hilarious.

If you do know a lot about Christianity, you’ll probably get more of the jokes and think it’s even funnier than I did.

If you are religious, take it seriously, and are easily offended when you really shouldn’t be, then this book is probably not for you.

I can’t recommend it enough for a good laugh.

As Cirensica

Thanks for the review of D. Kaheman’s books. It does sound very interesting. I also had added Piranesi to my list of books to read because of the Sox Machine Podcast with Keith Law. I actually read Law’s blogs about books to find interesting reading materials. Also, this annual posts you do are a good source.

The paperback version of Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange I purchased is 846 pages, which has to be the longest work of fiction I’ve ever read.

Which means you haven’t read the Harry Potter books? You are an avid reader, and I thought you’d have read those even if it is just for mere “OK, let’s read those and see what is all the hoopla about them”. I enjoyed those books mostly because I like to read Sci-Fi books every now and then. I find in them a escape to reality which sometimes is welcomed.

I decided to finally read a book I always wanted to read “The Gulag Archipelago” by Novel prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. And wow….I still haven’t finished it yet, the book is so darn well written, and so dense, and so long even though I am reading the abridge version (the original version is a lot longer). How Solzhenitsyn was capable to narrate crudely, yet artfully, the horrors of the Soviet prison system under the Stalin era has been very interesting indeed.

Last edited 11 months ago by As Cirensica
As Cirensica

I know you’re a good reader (you read good books), and I can understand the lack of connection you feel towards the Harry Potter’s books. If you allow me the rec, I strongly recommend them. I believe the Harry Potter books were the first Sci-Fi books I have ever read (aside from some mangas), and they opened to me a new spectrum of literature.

They are really well-written. This is not a silly writing to please young audience. JK Rowlings shows a knack at creating suspense without resorting to an over complicated plot, and that created one of her greatest contribution: she made a lot of people, specially children, to be fascinated to read. I have read a lot of fictional books, and I have never found another writer such as Rowlings that can write so exquisitely about whatever and yet keeping it at a high literature standard.

I remember back in the days when I was living in DC, and I went to buy her newest HP book, and oh boy, the line of people outside the Barnes and Nobles or any other bookstore just to buy a book! Loads of children but loads of adults too. That’s an incredible sight I have never seen in history.

If you ever have truly nothing to read, give those books a chance. They are easy to read, and very entertaining. You’ll probably put them down in a few days. I am not strange to reread books, but I have never read a book more than 5 times, except the Harry Potter’s books.

fustercluck

Just After Sunset, a Stephen King story collection. The last novel I read was 11/22/63, which tickles the historical fantasy nerve, if you’ve ever thought about giving Lee Harvey Oswald what-for.

mrridgman

112263 probably my favorite read ever.

asinwreck
HallofFrank

It’s been a run on 20th century British fiction, recently. Evelyn Waugh’s Helena, Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, then PG Wodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves. They were all excellent, but it’s difficult to beat Wodehouse’s levity for summer reading.

MarketMaker

I did a deep dive on crowdsourcing for my last startup and, as Kahneman says, independence is a prerequisite for successfully extracting insight and innovation from groups. Also important are diversity and decentralization and aggregation. It’s fascinating, really. In most things, the average is mediocrity, but when it comes to decision-making it’s often excellence. Perhaps the quintessential example of the positive power of the collective.

But there’s an inherent challenge in real crowdsourcing, which is the act of creation versus iteration. It’s just so much easier to riff off something or react to it than it is to create from scratch. If you were to make OPP blind, then you’d get a fraction of the submissions. The plans would become too daunting an undertaking for a great many of the folks who have previously submitted.

Right Size Wrong Shape

I recently decided to go back and read the books of the “Literary Brat Pack” (Bret Easton Ellis, Tama Janowitz, Jay McInerney, Jill Eisenstadt). I’d never read any of them. I’m not that far in yet, but I started with McInerney and have read his first 3 novels. IMO, “Bright Lights, Big City” deserves the acclaim, “Ransom” gets a bad rap, and :Story of My Life” was merely okay. Also, if you enjoy reading Catholicism / theology, I’ve just started “Parents of the Saints” by Patrick O’Hearn and am enjoying it.

Greg Nix

Currently reading THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR. Really interesting award-winning sci fi novella. Prior to that, I was deep into THE EXPANSE series (and currently the TV adaptation).

I also recently had to read DRIVING WITH THE DEVIL for a work project. It’s a non-fiction deep dive into the bootlegger roots of NASCAR. I’m not a big racing fan by any means, but the history is interesting.

soxygen

I have been reading David O. Stewart’s book “George Washington: The Political Rise of America’s Founding Father.”

Historical biography is not a genre I read frequently, but I’ve really enjoyed this one. Stewart has a very good sense of which details are relevant to Washington’s growth as a politician.