My first exposure to the book was from watching the Brad Pitt movie of the same name. Sue and I both loved the movie and placed it in our personal top 3 of 2011; which made giving me the book as a Christmas gift a sure thing.
The book centers on the Oakland A's and Billy Beane, the A's GM. Oakland has always struggled against the big league payrolls of other teams. Where top teams have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on players Oakland had a budget in the tens of millions. Money can indeed buy championships but Billy Beane tried a different approach to build a winning team. Instead of paying for stars he gathered undervalued players from around the league who had one thing in common - the ability to get on base.
Instead of relying on old school scouting that relied as much on gut feelings and how good a player looked in a uniform, Beane turned to something called sabermetrics. Sabermetrics is the study of baseball statistics and it attempts to take subjectivity out of evaluating the performance of a player. By looking for players with a strength in getting to first base rather than players who can hit home runs, Billy Beane created teams that had some of the best regular season records in all of Major League Baseball.
The book spent a lot of pages explaining the origins and value of Sabermetrics and on how many statistics are derived and calculated. This made for some pretty dry stuff but Lewis was shrewd in the book's layout and sandwiched stories of marginal players, who'd been transformed under the encouragement of Billy Beane, between the necessary chapters that dealt with math.
Beane was by no means a saint who nurtured players, quite the opposite, he was ruthless in making deals and trades. Some of his trades were mind-bogglingly complex and were a real treat to read about.
I am a baseball fan but I'm not fanatic about the game. For a reader who is really in to baseball and the things that happen behind the scenes this book is a must read. But for a guy like me this book has done a lot to explain the game that is played off the field; it's given me a better understanding and appreciation of the sport.
This is a very useful, intriguing, informative and entertaining book.