I polished off a couple of books this week - some highlights:
Game Changers was great. A magazine piece that actually merited being stretched into a book. Lots of great stories from the invention of sports analytics - especially as it built from London 2012 to Rio. The best bits were the stories of how Lizzy Yarnold turned herself into the most decorated British Winter Olympian with determination and sports science. And I never imagined I'd read so much about squash.
Like this bit about squash and the power of the highlights montage - the most significant artform of the 21st century:
"The evening before a match, Murray and Pearson would sit down to debate tactics with the players. Murray would talk them through a video of the opponent, highlighting just three of their strengths and three of their weaknesses. ‘David was adamant that we had to keep it simple,’ Murray explains. ‘Not because the players were stupid, but because when you go on court, you can’t have too much information in your head.’ Making these motivational videos was a blend of art and science, intended to galvanise the players. Murray could spend as much as a quarter of his working hours just compiling these bespoke videos. ‘It was very detailed,’ he recalls. ‘I’d make sure that the drumbeat of the song would coincide with the racket hitting the ball. Athletes spent their life either training or watching TV, so if it wasn’t Sky Sports quality, they would switch off.’ "
And I liked this bit about the power of weakness:
"‘I was a skinny player,’ Cruyff once said. ‘The weak have to develop a special intelligence, an ability to find alternatives.’ A capacity to learn not just with their brains, but with their bodies."
The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks on the United States was chillingly plausible and even chillinglier funny. I liked this little aside about Japanese firefighters:
"The cultural difference between firefighters in other parts of the world and the tobi (firefighters) of Edo can be explained by the simple fact that the latter did not fight fires with water; they had no water trucks or water pumps, just a few buckets and ladders. The primary method of controlling fires at the time was to knock down houses to make a firebreak, which allowed the fire to burn itself out without spreading. Thus, the fire brigades weren’t there to fight the fire but to fight any homeowner who might—understandably—resist seeing his home demolished. A sort of protection racket arose around the firefighters. After all, it was far better if the tobi sacrificed a neighbor’s house to the firebreak rather than your own. Naturally, the Edo firemen became a tough lot—drinking, brawling, and covered in tattoos. Indeed, the distinctive tattoos that mark the Yakuza, today’s Japanese gangsters, are a relic of the Edo fire brigades."
In other news, this is magnificent:
And I'm trying to think of something to say that will live up to how brilliant Killing Eve was, but, as yet, I can't.