I've read a few books about American football but this one is the best. It traces the development of the left tackle position over the last 30 years and, alongside that, tells the story of Michael Oher, a boy from the Memphis ghetto whose life may just be transformed by his physique, which is perfect for playing left tackle. Lewis's insight into NFL strategy is fantastic but equally fascinating is the examination of the class and race divide in America.
Michael Oher is 16 when we meet him, the barely literate child of a drug-addicted mother. Schools have often given him passing grades just to get rid of him. By chance he ends up at Briarcrest Christian School where for the first time people take an interest in his education. Meanwhile, the sport coaches are amazed that the 6'4 teenager, who weighs more than 20 stone, can move so fast.
Another chance encounter leads to his adoption by a rich white family, who help Oher to develop his social skills, force him to study and buy him the first bed he has ever had. They also help him progress as an American football player.
This is no easy task. Oher has barely played the sport - he dreamed of being a basketball pro, refusing to accept that he was too heavy. Lewis relates several very funny episodes as Oher learns the sport. In one incident, he snaps after being taunted by an opponent throughout the game. He lifts the player, who weighs 15 stone or so, off the ground, charges him down the field, onto the sideline, across the bench and is finally stopped by the fence at the side of the field. When asked where he was taking the player, he says he planned to put him back on the bus.
For years left tackles were seen as interchangeable parts of the offensive line. They were insignificant and paid as such. Lewis traces the history of the game and shows how the art of sacking the quarterback - tackling him while he still has the ball - became an increasingly important defensive tactic.
The defensive ends and linebackers trying to get the sack realised that their best chance came from the QB's blind side which, with most quarterbacks being right handed, is usually the left. Thus the man protecting the blind side, the left tackle, became more important and increasingly highly paid.
As Lewis points out, Michael Oher could easily have been lost to the ghetto, where his most promising career prospect was as bodyguard for the local drug dealer. His starting point in life virtually condemned him to a similar fate as his parents - one a drug addict, the other murdered. Instead, on April 25, 2009, he'll be drafted into the NFL as a left tackle, the highest-paid position on the field after the quarterback.
It's tempting to recommend this book to anyone who is interested in contemporary American society but the sections on American football strategy may bore the average reader. However, this is an essential read for anyone who is interested in American football or American sport in general.