Customer Reviews: How Soccer Explains the World
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on November 12, 2004
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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on July 9, 2004
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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on May 3, 2006
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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on July 27, 2005
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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on June 6, 2008
Franklin Foer is definitely onto something. Indeed soccer might ultimately explain the world. Unfortunately the National Best Seller he has written, "How Soccer Explains the World", does not. Yet Foer is a good writer. His chapters are nice introductory essays on the culture of soccer in it's many forms throughout the world. He stops well short of linking the many disparate aspects of multi-cultural supporter rivalry, prejudice, and greed into why the beautiful game is, in fact, such a phenomenon throughout the world. Soccer fans will enjoy this book for the insight into leagues they do not follow and for some historical trivia. Others might enjoy it just so that can laugh at the absolute freaks who show up to support their passion and sadly for the crimes against humanity committed in its name. But he does not explain, to the uninitiated, why soccer is the world wide beautiful game. Those of us who play or follow the sport, might think we know how soccer explains the world because we live it, it's a part of our lives, we feel it everyday. But the same is true for any other passionate human endeavor. If you are passionate about it, it is the undisputed answer to the world and holds the key to the meaning of life -- serious stuff. So a book claiming to actually know why, not just locally but globally, must stand up to it's title. There's a lot of competition out there and Foer fails to bring anything else to the table for a comparison -- but he could. Further, he does not link the fundamental building blocks of society into the game -- he touches on them, but does not link them into society -- I guess that's because he is an economist and not a sociologist or a theologist. However as an economist he really misses the big business that is soccer. Without a chapter devoted to the business of soccer he has ignored a very important link. If soccer explains the world than FIFA must be running the world, for example. There is no chapter on FIFA. And if soccer is akin to religion, while he did write a chapter about the King, he failed to mention God. Where is Diego Maradona? And if soccer is a social building block -- while he does mention yuppies in America, where soccer is the least stringent of societal glue, he does not mention the societies where soccer is one of the very few but incredibly binding influences. So to recap -- no elements of the beautiful game itself, no comparisons to other global influences, and no expansion into other phenomenon directly attributable to a functioning society. Foer wrote some nice essays after taking the opportunity to travel the world. I am envious to say the least. But he failed miserably to live up to the title of the book. Perhaps he should write a sequel and call it -- "How Soccer Really Explains the World". For now we must continue to wait for the explanation of what we already know.
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on July 9, 2004
Foer is an excellent writer, but for football fans who read a lot about the sport, much of this will seem overly familiar. Though he does his best to bring a new perspective to these stories, his focus on globalization still ends up feeling gimmicky. The religious and political aspects of the Celtic v. Rangers rivalry, the ludicrous corruption of Brazilian football, and many of the other stories here have been well-covered by writers like Simon Kuper, Alex Bellos and others. While I think Foer's name and reputation might help introduce non-fans to some of football's fascinating history--and that's a good thing--football fans who are well-read on the topic will wonder why Foer bothered writing what's already been written. For an introduction to the history of the sport, this isn't bad at all, but Kuper's book is better. Those who are truly interested should skip this and read Kuper's FOOTBALL AGAINST THE ENEMY, David Winner's BRILLIANT ORANGE, and Alex Bellos's FUTEBOL: SOCCER, THE BRAZILIAN WAY. This is not a bad book, but there's nothing new here and other writers have said it better.
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on July 25, 2005
The author tries a little too hard to connect globalization to the soccer (football) world, and pretty much comes up short on all vignettes, but he does do a fine job of explaining the underworlds of club hooligan gangs, and the ways they can influence the whole of society. He also explains many of the politics of the sport on several continents and how they differ and are similar. Globalization is touched upon the most in the section on the way clubs acquire and sell players across national boundaries and how they began to exploit players from Africa and South America to make soccer a truly international sport.
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on June 23, 2005
Let me just say that, like the author Franklin Foer, I am a huge fan of international soccer and really love watching the World Cup every four years. It's a far more entertaining month, in my mind, than The Olympics. That's why I gave this book a chance. As far as soccer goes, the book is fantastic. The politics subplot left much to be desired, however, but that wasn't why I bought it in the first place.

Each of the chapters tells a different story about soccer within a different area of the world. Europe is, of course, represented heavily. An inside look at teams like Red Star Belgrade would make anybody twice as happy to be a United States citizen. Our sports have Holly Hobby characters by comparison. The rivalry between the two Glasgow teams, the Protestant Rangers and the Catholic Celtic, is unlike anything that we have in this nation. It makes the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry look like a Soap Box Derby. The intensity of these matches and its meaning for the fans is something that Foer excels at describing. One can practically see the Tottenham supporters and their emblems of their philosemitism in the stands, and that chapter, in particular, is brilliantly written. It is ironic that a sport, referred to in one editorial as "a slum sport played by slum people" can produce so much grandeur and memory.

The story of Brazilian team soccer, and its rule by top hats, is rather depressing. It appears that the entire league is hopelessly corrupt, which may be a reason that so many of their superstars play elsewhere.

The only problem that I had with Foer as a narrator is that he seems completely infected with political correctness. He goes in search of finding a team to support and chooses Barcelona, but is dedicated to avoiding teams with a past history of racism or fascism or whatever -ism happens to be trendy at the moment. The problem with this is that what transpires on the pitch has little to do with the thoughts that race through each supporters' head. You cannot vouch for the sanity of your fellow fans, and you cannot blame team ownership for what former owners did before their individual births. Soccer is a noble game; let's not reduce it to the level of politics or worry about a past that those of us in the present had zero control over.
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on March 28, 2012
Foer, F. (2004). How soccer explains the world: An unlikely theory of globalization. New York: Harper Perennial.
Franklin Foer attempts to simplify the world with his "less economic than cultural" view of planet Earth in, "How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization." The book isn't about what led to globalization, but rather what has become of it, and more specifically what it's done for the sport of soccer. It focuses more on what the sport means to so many people. How they perceive, consume and embody it. The athletes are idolized. The teams are revered. The sport itself is worshiped. Foer traveled the globe in the quest to understand soccer as it strengthens national ties, crosses borders and seemingly extends the arm of diplomacy between feuding states.
He posits his argument by discussing the ways in which club teams field rosters of multicultural players. The pitch knows no national boundaries. Continental and global tournaments bring teams from all over together in competition, with the World Cup "[putting] the 'ethnic stereotypes' of nationalities on display." Foer uses the defensive oriented Italians and the rugged brutality of the English national teams to illustrate the homogenous traits that remain on national team squads despite global communities' growing connectedness.
Technology, mainly satellites and high-speed internet, builds metaphorical bridges between communities on opposite sides of the globe. Foer's passion for soccer came as a result of it. Media consumption accelerates the sport's growth and increases and enhances its fan base. The modes and methods of soccer consumption vary, with some going to the extreme. Italian media outlets even go so far as to review, critique and referee the performance of referees. Controversial calls are scrutinized, with the help of slow motion replays. Statistics are accumulated with extreme precision, with hopes of exposing bias. Foer uses the passionate Italians as the epitome of die-hard soccer fans.
One of the most inspiring in Foer's work is the relationship between soccer fans and their clubs in Islamic nations. With a society and culture stifled by an oppressive religion, Muslims use soccer as an escape from their highly regulated lives. "Fans will cure in the foulest, most clearly verboten language. They will throw punches that can't be justified by any reasonable interpretation of the Koran," Foer wrote (p. 218). The allure of the game makes it difficult for a large portion of the Muslim population, as they are prohibited from attending a live match. Women living in Islamic regimes occasionally risk their own safety by disguising themselves as men to sneak into a match at Azadi, the 120,000 seat staduim in Tehran, Iran. Their actions muster up a faint voice for a population typically overlooked.
The Iranian people's celebration after their national team qualified for the 1998 World Cup exemplified just that. For that night, Iranians were free. Women took off their hijabs, throngs of Iranians consumed alcohol in the streets while listening to western pop music. When the militia arrived to shut down the parties, they couldn't resist partaking in the festivities.
Foer didn't possess, nor need, and expertise in the sporting arena to publish his work. While a vast amount of reporting and journalism experience and an unbridled passion for soccer enhances the final product, no "expertise" in either, nor globalization, was required to understand and disseminate the material.
He admitted his 248 page thesis doesn't come close to mastering and abridging the complexity that is globalization theory. He even goes so far as to say he took on the task fueled by personal interest. Yet, what Foer does accomplish is shining a light on areas in the soccer world that even embedded journalists wouldn't uncover. The interconnectedness of soccer clubs in Italy and the ruling class. The working poor in the Balkan nations, who cling to their favorite teams as if it was life support. To some, the worlds sport means the world to them.
Readers of Thomas Friedman's work may feel slighted at the use of "globalization." While offering only multicultural teams and ease of access to sporting events to explain his theory, Foers book, while interesting, was but several lengthy accounts of teams and their fans and "stadiums [he] most desperately wanted to see." As a journalist, Foer should have at least considered objectivity before leaving his desk at the New Republic. Soccer fans would undoubtedly enjoy the book, however globalization theorists, anthropologists and sociologists would feel deceived by the book's title. In all, Foer's passion makes for a pleasurable read. While soccer may not bring the world together-- as many Americans delight in despising it -its fans, no matter the demographic, comprise the entire population. While all may not indulge, everyone is represented.
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on January 17, 2009
The author writes well and did a lot of research around different clubs in the world. That's about the end of what's positive about this book. For the negatives, well, pretty much everything else. From a book titled "How Soccer Explains the World," you would expect it to "explain" things. Instead, it does not explain anything about soccer, the world or how the two are related. All it does is to find the most negative aspects about a country, associate it with a soccer club in that country, and go on to describe it in great detail. It pretty much just says the world is a screwed up place, and soccer is to blame for it, except it repeats itself in each chapter in a slightly new form in a different setting. Somehow, football "explains" all that is wrong: racism, anti-semitism, ethnic violence in Serbia, corruption in Brazil, hooliganism in England, Culture Wars in America - the list just goes on. At the end of the book, you can only conclude that the author probably just really hates soccer, and did a lot of research to find bad things that can be associated with it. Guess what, like most things that have a large following, people project both GOOD and bad onto them. In most cases, such projections have nothing to do with soccer itself. Hence the fundamental thesis of the book is completely bogus. That being said, the book serves as an interesting read on various cultural phenomenon around the world, so not a total loss.
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