BOOK REVIEW: This is Your Brain on Sports


This is Your Brain on Sports: the Science of Underdogs, the Value of Rivalry and What We Can Learn from the T-Shirt Cannon by L. Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers (Crown Archetype, February 2016) is a "Freakonomics of Sports" that focuses on how human behavior, social norms and pure coincidence impacts how and why we enjoy the intricacies of American sports. Unfortunately, while Brain on Sports is a sociological wet dream for fans of that ilk, it falls short in the entertainment realm for the rest of us.

Don't get me wrong: the deep dive into why we assume NFL quarterbacks are all attractive (they're not) or why the 2016 Milwaukee Brewers once again will not be contenders for the World Series title shows how incredibly well the authors researched their content. There's just an overwhelming sense of "Why should I care?" that leaps off the pages and remains unanswered.

Brain on Sports reads less like an unraveling of long-held secrets finally being shown the light of day and more like a collection of rhetorical questions you might overhear at a neighborhood bar. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it just doesn't make for exciting reading for prolonged periods.

There's no question that there are layers of interesting tidbits scattered throughout the book. Any look at how the human psyche operates in competition and within the minds of those who view that competition is worth examining closely... but only in short spurts. Brain on Sports would have made for a fantastic series of articles on a leading sports website or even in a serial format on television. Bundled together in a 300-page book without any conceivable flow from one chapter to the next just did not seem to work as well as the publisher intended.