Michael Lewis mostly writes about sports, business, and the business of sports, but the theme is always the same: the gap between the rational way to exploit and eliminate market inefficiency and people’s emotional attachment to the old bad ways, which leads them to ignore or actively resent suggested improvements. Beneath his calm prose boils an activist journalist’s anger, whether he’s marveling over plainly unsustainable Wall Street greed in Liar’s Poker or the baseball establishment’s inexplicable resistance to any form of change in Moneyball.
Home Game: An Accidental Guide To Fatherhood is a rare excursion into Lewis’ personal life. The subtitle raises the dreadful specter of sentimentality, or worse, a gimmicky screed on market inefficiencies in parenting, but neither one is present in the book; the only point is that Lewis has the guts to admit that he didn’t feel a surge of tremulous joy at his first child’s birth, and he’s probably a terrible dad by most standards. He’s sure there are many fathers like him who can’t admit it. That’s why discussions between couples with different parenting norms are sure to end in tears and anger: “The absence of standards is the social equivalent of the absence of an acknowledged fair price for a good in a marketplace. At best, it leads to haggling; at worst, to market failure.” Fortunately, that’s the only time Lewis tries to explicitly tie his anecdotes to his overall career.
The happiest Lewis ever gets is figuring out what makes a helpless infant endearing after six months of care: “It’s because you want to hurl it off the balcony and don’t that you come to love it.” The rest of the time, Lewis is raging against his wife’s tendency to underestimate him as a parent, musing on “the potential misery” of parenting and admitting “You can only do so much to mess up your kids. They can always get back at you, in therapy or their memoirs.” Those kind of admissions may infuriate some readers (especially moms, who can do no right for Lewis) or seem needlessly callous. But Home Game, which was adapted from a series of Slate essays and is an accordingly zippy read, is hilarious but painfully candid, one man’s uneasy reckoning with the potentially devastating consequences of parenting. It’s unsparing, but Lewis is as honest with himself as he’s been with his subjects.