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Review: Soccernomics April 2, 2010

Posted by tomflesher in Academia, Book reviews.
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Soccernomics (Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski) – $9.99 (Kindle edition)
Overall: **** (out of five)
Recommendation: Buy

One of the first books I read with the intent of understanding the quantitative basis for it was Moneyball by Michael Lewis. Regardless of what I write on my résumé, my research interests in mechanism design, industrial organization, and price theory take a back seat to sports economics (as this blog’s faithful readers, if any, know).

For that reason, while I don’t know much about soccer, I had to read Soccernomics. The book is arranged much like Freakonomics, right down to the cover design, and takes on the format of devoting individual chapters to interesting research questions. It differs, however, in that it also devotes chapters to telling stories about game changers as opposed to analyzing data. There are numerous subchapters that follow Moneyball‘s familiar narrative format focusing on a charismatic individual as a lens through which the economics can be viewed. For example, the discussion on Guus Hiddink is a fascinating palate-cleanser that puts the authors’ theory into action rather than relying solely on the data to tell the story.

The data are, however, the backbone of Soccernomics. The authors include descriptions of their statistical techniques at a level appropriate for the non-technical reader without being frustratingly simplistic. One chapter analyzes the data on world power too deeply (yes, there is such a thing!) but comes to interesting conclusions that justify the deep discussion of world-level finishes in multiple sports.

The book tells interesting stories and is clear enough that even I could understand it despite knowing nothing about soccer (although the repeated references to ‘bottle’ still don’t make any sense to me). I would have like a technical appendix of some sort to show some of their regression results more clearly, but as it stands this is an excellent book for the technical or nontechnical reader.