Synopses & Reviews
Soccer is much more than a game, or even a way of life. It is a perfect window into the cross-currents of today's world, with all its joys and its sorrows. In this remarkably insightful, wide-ranging work of reportage, Franklin Foer takes us on a surprising tour through the world of soccer, shining a spotlight on the clash of civilizations, the international economy, and just about everything in between. How Soccer Explains the World is an utterly original book that makes sense of our troubled times.
"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. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] wonderfully conceived treatise....Perfectly timed to coincide with soccer's growing coolness...this excellent book belongs with two other great soccer-outsider inquiries, Bill Buford's Among the Thugs and Joe McGinniss' The Miracle of Castel di Sangro." Booklist
"A novel look at how the world is everywhere becoming more alike, and everywhere more different, as people seek to define themselves through football....[T]he author is unfailingly interesting. Lively and provocative." Kirkus Reviews
"Foer's book is such an eccentric, fascinating exposé of a world most of us know nothing about that his inability to prove his central thesis seems almost irrelevant." Joe Queenan, The New York Times Book Review
"A lively travelogue....[S]uperbly written and elegantly reported....[Foer] made his way around the world and brought back a kaleidoscopic view of a vibrant game and the people who believe in it." Chicago Tribune
"Foer's ambition to explain the world and the phenomenon of globalization via soccer is helter-skelter, but journalistic parts of the whole can be fascinating." The Oregonian
"[A]bsorbing....Even if Foer's larger argument remains only sporadically convincing, his vividly reported tableau may well cause American sports fans to breathe a sigh of relief about how little, really, our games matter." San Francisco Chronicle
"The title of Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World is unabashed hype and the thesis is so anemic that it can hardly stand up to scrutiny, but the prose is lively and the vignettes are memorable." Boston Globe
This wide-ranging work of reportage is a unique and brilliantly illuminating look at the world's most popular sport as a new metaphor for the pressing issues of our age, from the clash of civilizations to the global economy.
“An eccentric, fascinating exposé of a world most of us know nothing about.”
—The New York Times Book Review
"An insightful, entertaining, brainiac sports road trip."
—The Wall Street Journal
"Foers skills as a narrator are enviable. His characterizations… are comparable to those in Norman Mailer's journalism."
—The Boston Globe
A groundbreaking work—named one of the five most influential sports books of the decade by Sports Illustrated—How Soccer Explains the World is a unique and brilliantly illuminating look at soccer, the worlds most popular sport, as a lens through which to view the pressing issues of our age, from the clash of civilizations to the global economy.
About the Author
Franklin Foer is a staff writer at the New Republic and a frequent contributor to Slate. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic Monthly, Foreign Policy, and Spin. He lives in Washington, D.C.
Reading Group Guide
Questions for Discussion
1. "This book has three parts. The first tries to explain the failure of globalization to erode ancient hatreds in the game's great rivalries ... The second part uses soccer to address economics: the consequences of migration, the persistence of corruption and the rise of powerful new oligarchs ... Finally, the book uses soccer to defend the virtues of old-fashioned nationalism -- a way to blunt the return of tribalism" (pages 5-6). Do you feel that the book succeeded on all three levels? Why or why not?
2. How did the Red Star fans go from being "Milosevic's shock troops, the most active agents of ethnic cleansing, highly efficient practitioners of genocide" (page 13) to staging the "Red Star Revolution," helping to overthrow Milosevic in 2000?
3. "The Celtic-Rangers rivalry represents something more than the enmity of proximity. It is an unfinished fight over the Protestant Reformation" (page 36). Discuss the role that soccer plays in the British Isles and in their religions.
4. "Jackie Robinson's presence transformed the culture of baseball, slowly chipping away at clubhouse racism. Mo Johnston, strangely, had the opposite effect [in soccer]" (page 48). Why?
5. Create an argument for and against the globalization of soccer. What are the benefits? Who are the victims? What can be learned from the history of soccer in order to ensure its successful future? Or do you see the sport self-destructing altogether?
6. "An entire movement of Jews believed that soccer, and sport more generally, would liberate them from the violence and tyranny of anti-Semitism" (page 69). What did the Hakoah club contribute to the sport of soccer? Address the parallels between Jews and Native Americans as sports' mascots.
7. What person or group do you see as the American equivalent to the English hooligan? Why do you think the hooligan is seen as such a fascinating character?
8. Consider Pelé -- "the perfectly postmodern image" (page 125) -- and how his successes and failures mirrored those of the Brazilian soccer club.
9. What do the ways in which the Italian teams, Juventus and Milan, influence the referees reveal about the organizations and owners, and ultimately the two very different styles of oligarchies?
10. How has the team Barca, according to the author, proved the theory that "patriotism and cosmopolitanism should be perfectly compatible. You could love your country -- even consider it a superior group -- without desiring to dominate other groups or closing yourself off to foreign impulses" (page 199)?
11. Discuss the football revolution and how it "holds the key to the future of the Middle East" (page 222).
12. How has September 11th influenced the business and culture of soccer?
13. After reading this book, would you encourage your children to play soccer or discourage them from participating in the sport? Explain.