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How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization Paperback – May 11, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

The global power of soccer might be a little hard for Americans, living in a country that views the game with the same skepticism used for the metric system and the threat of killer bees, to grasp fully. But in Europe, South America, and elsewhere, soccer is not merely a pastime but often an expression of the social, economic, political, and racial composition of the communities that host both the teams and their throngs of enthusiastic fans. New Republic editor Franklin Foer, a lifelong devotee of soccer dating from his own inept youth playing days to an adulthood of obsessive fandom, examines soccer's role in various cultures as a means of examining the reach of globalization. Foer's approach is long on soccer reportage, providing extensive history and fascinating interviews on the Rangers-Celtic rivalry and the inner workings of AC Milan, and light on direct discussion of issues like world trade and the exportation of Western culture. But by creating such a compelling narrative of soccer around the planet, Foer draws the reader into these sport-mad societies, and subtly provides the explanations he promises in chapters with titles like "How Soccer Explains the New Oligarchs", "How Soccer Explains Islam's Hope", and "How Soccer Explains the Sentimental Hooligan." Foer's own passion for the game gives his book an infectious energy but still pales in comparison to the religious fervor of his subjects. His portraits of legendary hooligans in Serbia and Britain, in particular, make the most die-hard roughneck New York Yankees fan look like a choirboy in comparison. Beyond the thugs, Foer also profiles Nigerian players living in the Ukraine, Iranian women struggling against strict edicts to attend matches, and the parallel worlds of Brazilian soccer and politics from which Pele emerged and returned. Foer posits that globalization has eliminated neither local cultural identities nor violent hatred among fans of rival teams, and it has not washed out local businesses in a sea of corporate wealth nor has it quelled rampant local corruption. Readers with an interest in international economics are sure to like How Soccer Explains the World, but soccer fans will love it. --John Moe --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Foer, a New Republic editor, scores a game-winning goal with this analysis of the interchange between soccer and the new global economy. The subtitle is a bit misleading, though: he doesn't really use soccer to develop a theory; instead, he focuses on how examining soccer in different countries allows us to understand how international forces affect politics and life around the globe. The book is full of colorful reporting, strong characters and insightful analysis: In one of the most compelling chapters, Foer shows how a soccer thug in Serbia helped to organize troops who committed atrocities in the Balkan War—by the end of the war, the thug's men, with the acquiescence of Serbian leaders, had killed at least 2,000 Croats and Bosnians. Then he bought his own soccer club and, before he was gunned down in 2000, intimidated other teams into losing. Most of the stories aren't as gruesome, but they're equally fascinating. The crude hatred, racism and anti-Semitism on display in many soccer stadiums is simply amazing, and Foer offers context for them, including how current economic conditions are affecting these manifestations. In Scotland, the management of some teams have kept religious hatreds alive in order to sell tickets and team merchandise. But Foer, a diehard soccer enthusiast, is no anti-globalist. In Iran, for example, he depicts how soccer works as a modernizing force: thousands of women forced police to allow them into a men's-only stadium to celebrate the national team's triumph in an international match. One doesn't have to be a soccer fan to truly appreciate this absorbing book.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (May 11, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061978051
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061978050
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (144 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

121 of 137 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Herlihy on November 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I picked this up when in the States; a football loving Brit who watches games around the world wanting to read a 'yank's' take on the beautiful game.

The author writes well. It is a fun read, but since getting back to England I've gained many cheap laughs by reading excerpts out loud.You have to trust an author when he states something as fact, but whenever I came across something I had personal knowledge of he gets it wrong.

His chapter on Ukrainian racism ends with him saying the racist abuse of black players there is not as bad as in England.Racist abuse was bad here 30 years ago, but disappeared many years ago.He talks of Iranian players `emigrating to play in English football- there's not one. He refers to the 1998 World Game, Germany v Iran, and says the`stadium was full of pro democracy Iranians. It was not. I was at that game . The stadium was full of Germans. And as for his`piece on Tottenham- someone was clearly winding him up.

This might seem picky, but instances like these made me suspect what he was saying about things I knew nothing about. If you want to read about football, pick up Simon Kuper's book 'Football against the enemy',David Winner's ' Brilliant Orange' and Pete Davie's brilliant 'All Played Out'. This book explained nothing
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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Foer is an excellent writer, and for those who aren't familiar with the history of the sport this is an excellent introduction. For those who are already well-read on football, much of this will be too familiar. The religious and political context of the Celtic v. Rangers rivalry, the laughable corruption of Brazilian football, and basically every other story in this book has already been covered by other writers. Though the globalization theme tries to bring a new perspective to these old stories, it just feels gimmicky. If you've already read Simon Kuper's FOOTBALL AGAINST THE ENEMY you'll regret spending your money here. If you haven't read Kuper's book, but you're interested in the sport, buy it immediately. This is light reading designed for those who know nothing about the sport's history. For those looking for more depth and more entertainment, skip this and go straight to Kuper, David Winner's BRILLIANT ORANGE, and Alex Bellos' FUTEBOL: SOCCER, THE BRAZILIAN WAY. All three are excellent, entertaining, and provide more insight into the topics Foer touches on. To summarize: the typical American reader with limited soccer knowledge will enjoy this, those with real interest in the subject would do well to move on to more meaty fare.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Brickbat70 on May 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is certainly not a terrible book, but it also isn't the book described by the title and subtitle. As other reviewers have mentioned, it's primarily a collection of vignettes, some very interesting but most only slightly insightful. The author, editor, and publisher are clearly aware of this since the most interesting bits huddle near the front of the book. As you reach the middle and end, it begins to stumble along (and you begin to wonder when the "unlikely theory" of globalization comes in).

Foer provides evidence but offers no thesis. He says, "You can tell about globalization by looking at soccer, and here's what I found as I traveled and studied soccer." The reader is left to draw his or her own conclusions. Foer actually seems to avoid drawing conclusions since he often presents ideas following a "Some say this, while others might conclude the opposite" pattern. It also suffers from a common problem in books like these--the claims it does make are huge, as though a single soccer game could really inspire the Romanian revolution, the American culture wars, or the relaxation of fundamentalist Islam. Foer comes across as fairly certain he understands complex global issues despite his inability to develop a coherent theory of globalization!

In the end, this is a book with a lot of promise but not much else. It feels like a book that was sold as an idea, and the final product didn't fulfill the original goal. Choose a book on soccer or a book on globalization, but wait for a better book on globalization as seen through soccer.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Derrick Peterman on July 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
I suppose a book titled "10 Essays of the Political, Social, and Economic Underpinnings of Soccer" won't sell as many books, but in this case, would be more accurate. Maybe "How the World Explains Soccer" would be the better way to go. I had high expectations when I bought this, and while it's a good read, it was hard not to be disappointed with the book not really delivering on the title.

That said, some of the chapters were compelling. The first chapter demonstrating how Red Star Brigade was instrumental in Serbian nationalism in the 90's was rather chilling. The chapter on Celtic-Chelsea rivalry and Nigerians playing in the Ukraine were also most interesting to me. As a soccer fan that catches the occasional MLS match on US television, follows the US national team, and watches several World Cup matches every four years, I found the essays broadened my appreciation for the sport. More dedicated fans of the beautiful game will probably find some of the essays less informative, since a few seemed more like good reporting and really didn't have anything really profound to say, despite Foer trying mightily to do so.
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