Sunday, June 15, 2008

Book Review: Who's #1?

One of the reasons I'm not a very good book reviewer is sometimes I'm not sure what I want to say about a book, and Who's #1?: 100-plus Years of Controversial National Champions in College Football by Christopher J. Walsh is one of those books.

On the negative side, it's unusually-sized, more like a picture book than a normal text-based book. But, while it does have some photos, there wasn't really a budget for photo rights, as Walsh acknowledges, so what photos there are are black-and-white and not spectacular. The other thing I personally would like in a broad scope book like this is a long list of sources consulted, so I could read more on some topics. That isn't something lots of people like, though, so Walsh foregoes that.

The title is a little misleading, too. About half the book is on national championships, a description of how the process has changed over time, an examination of 10 of the more controversial ones, and a listing of who's been picked each year by all the selectors Walsh could find. A great part of the book is instead given over to team capsules-a look of some of the most successful years for a reasonably large number of different teams, ranging from the obvious traditional powers (Alabama, Nebraska, USC, etc.) to some teams that used to be well-known but aren't anymore (Chicago, Sewanee, Santa Clara, etc.). How informative these sections are depend on just how much you know about college football; the Sewanee section talks about the most impressive road trip in college football history, but I've known about that since I was about 7. I'd forgotten, though, Santa Clara had won Orange and Sugar Bowls.

I should have mentioned this in my review of Forward Pass, but Who's #1 could have used better editing. There are some annoying typos (who is this Arizona State alumnus Barry "Bongs"?), anecdotes are repeated (especially annoying in a book with 180 pages of text), and sentences are sometimes crafted particularly inartfully (something I here am often guilty of). I tend to read quickly, with my brain often seeing what should be there instead of what actually is there, so poor editing doesn't both me nearly as much as it does some people.

Gripes aside, this isn't a bad book, and it's a pretty good primer on college football history, making it a much more useful book than the title and subtitle indicate. Is that a recommendation? If you think it is, then it is; if not, then it isn't.

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