Synopses & Reviews
In Ajax, New York Times bestselling author Simon Kuper compiles a comprehensive history of soccer in Holland and the supremely influential Ajax club's "Total Football" method, uncovering, in the process, the untold story of the Holocaust in Europe.
"Before 1940 there were 140,000 Jews in Holland. In 1945 there were about 40,000. Something very strange is going on here, and Simon Kuper has tried to put his finger on it. Known for his thoughtful sports journalism, Kuper, who grew up partly in Holland, as the son of South African Jews, had the brilliant idea of looking at Holland's wartime history through some of its football clubs. This is more than the whim of a soccer fanatic, which he also happens to be.... [Ajax, The Dutch, The War is] a fascinating tale, which Kuper describes particularly well....The heroic resistance myths I grew up with have lost their enchantment long ago. There are still many things to admire about Holland, but the tendency towards social smugness is not one of them. I salute Simon Kuper for striking a blow against Dutch complacency. The country can only be the better for it." Ian Buruma, The Spectator
"Simon Kuper is soccer's finest journalist. He is also a terrific storyteller. This book is filled with reporting that will break your heart and analysis that will change the way you watch the game." Franklin Foer
"This is a sometimes bitter book, and its truths are often unpalatable. Kuper will not have made himself many friends in his adopted country (his father emigrated to Holland in 1976) and in a sense it has been ambushed by history, since Pym Fortuyn's anti-immigration party lost so many seats in January's elections. But it is a fascinating history, full of startling facts and sobering detail." Daily Telegraph
"Kuper turns us into more alert, more intelligent, more grateful spectators of the beautiful game." New Yorker
“Kuper’s journalism is always about more than just the game itself….It’s a fascinating exploration by a journalist who holds no truths to be self-evident but wants the facts behind the national myths we so eagerly embrace. Likely to interest WWII and Holocaust scholars as much as — if not more than — soccer fans.” Booklist
“Kuper’s poignant and perceptive account again proves there can be more to football writing than fanzines and pale Hornby imitations.” GQ
“Kuper has fashioned a work which brilliantly juxtaposes the everyday life of football clubs with the awful fate suffered by so many of their Jewish players, officials, and supporters.” Time Out
“A fascinating history, full of startling facts and sobering detail.” Telegraph
“[A] poignant tribute.” Sacramento/San Francisco Book Review
When most people think about the Netherlands, images of tulips and peaceful pot smoking residents spring to mind. Bring up soccer, and most will think of Johan Cruyuff, the Dutch player thought to rival Pele in preternatural skill, and Ajax, one of the most influential soccer clubs in the world whose academy system for young athletes has been replicated around the globe (and most notably by Barcelona and the 2010 world champions, Spain).
But as international bestselling author Simon Kuper writes in Ajax, The Dutch, The War: Soccer in Europe During the Second World War, the story of soccer in Holland cannot be understood without investigating what really occurred in this country during WWII. For decades, the Dutch have enjoyed the reputation of having a "good war." The myth is even resonant in Israel where Ajax is celebrated. The fact is, the Jews suffered shocking persecution at the hands of Dutch collaborators. Holland had the second largest Nazi movement in Europe outside Germany, and in no other country except Poland was so high a percentage of Jews deported.
Kuper challenges Holland's historical amnesia and uses soccer--particularly the experience of Ajax, a club long supported by Amsterdam's Jews--as a window on wartime Holland and Europe. Through interviews with Resistance fighters, survivors, wartime soccer players and more, Kuper uncovers this history that has been ignored, and also finds out why the Holocaust had a profound effect on soccer in the country.
Ajax produced Cruyuff but was also built by members of the Dutch resistance and Holocaust survivors. It became a surrogate family for many who survived the war and its method for producing unparalleled talent became the envy of clubs around the world. In this passionate, haunting and moving work of forensic reporting, Kuper tells the breathtaking story of how Dutch Jews survived the unspeakable and came to play a strong role in the rise of the most exciting and revolutionary style of soccer -- "Total Football" -- the world had ever seen.
About the Author
Simon Kuper is one of the world's leading writers on soccer. The winner of the William Hill prize for sports book of the year in England, Kuper writes a weekly column for the Financial Times.