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The Blind Side

January 4, 2011

The Blind Side
Michael Lewis
339 pages

I checked this out of the library in November, and am kicking myself for not writing a long review of it at the time. I just checked out Liar’s Poker, also by Michael Lewis, and even the first few pages remind me of what I liked so much about The Blind Side.

I got engrossed in The Blind Side almost immediately. It’s a clearly written combination of solid football history, and really focused, human biography. It’s a fascinating level of detail and context.

I like football, but I’m a relatively recent fan. I’ve only been watching for a handful of years. As such, I know enough to understand a game I’m watching. But I miss out on a big chunk of the historical context and overall strategy. Especially on the defensive side, because so much of what I know about football comes from fantasy football, which is heavily focused on the players who run, throw and catch.

The story of Michael Oher grabbed me immediately. It’s a bit of a Cinderella story, writ large in the world of sports. Michael Oher has nothing, not even a home, when Sean Tuohy sees his amazing talent for playing football. To get him to play for Briarcliff Academy, Sean Tuohy and his wife, Leigh Anne, take Michael in, transforming his life. Suddenly, Michael is living a dream- a loving family working hard to help him succeed in school, an affluent life, and a spot on the football team.

In addition to providing focused, emotional portraits of Michael and his new family, Lewis’s book stretches back into football history to provide an excellent and detailed context, exploring the ways football strategy has shifted and evolved. Michael Oher is both big and fast, which makes him an ideal left tackle. Reliance on the left tackle is a relatively new shift in football history, which Lewis explores thoroughly yet concisely.

Neil saw me reading the book and scooped it up the instant I was finished. Neil is English, and has only been watching NFL football for the past year or so. (I can proudly say I’ve turned him into a Jets fan!) Here is his take:

It was a brilliant combination of insightful and interesting commentary on the evolution of football strategy and a great piece of biography. Both of which things would have made fantastic books on their own.  In combination they’re truly inspired.

As Neil was finishing the book, he asked me if I knew of any other, similar books about football history. Unfortunately, I’m stumped. I can’t think of a book that will capture football history that’s so well grounded in the humanness of the stories. Neil and I aren’t looking for some overarching, encyclopedic tome, although we’re looking to gain comprehensive knowledge. What we want are similar, good stories about football, carrying the information with compassionate emotional heft.

Starting to read Liars Poker reminded me of what I loved about The Blind Side. Good football history and an uplifting story were only part of the equation. The rest is Michael Lewis’s talent for engaging prose that grounds information in character-focused storytelling. In other words, excellent narrative journalism, that works as a good introduction to a subject.

I checked this book out of the New York Public Library.

For every book I read in 2011, I’m donating $1 to the New York Public Library. Donate now to help them keep me in books!

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