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
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.
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