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How Soccer Explains the World

a book review

product linkHow Soccer Explains the World
authorFranklin Foer
date reviewed2006.04.19
genreSocial Science

This is a book that covers the history of the late 20th century and events up to the current day. Through the world of soccer, it explores themes such as the use of power, cultural struggles, organized crime, and personal identity.

It's an intriguing idea. Soccer, played in every corner of the globe, is a seemingly innocent activity. But the author shows how it has been politicized on many levels, in different places.

Ranging from the organized militias of the Balkans to the fine divisions of class and inclination in middle-class America, the author outlines how soccer has been used and abused. Foer follows the career arcs of hooligans, warriors and soccer stars in his exploration of these political ramifications, and to an extent this is convincing.

What's particularly strong is the reach of the author's travels in researching this book. You have to admit that an author who's tracked down an African soccer player who's scraping by in the former Soviet Union is doing his legwork. So, too when that author interviews Balkan militiamen and crimelords in various place.

If the book has a shortcoming, it's in its political slant. I find an exploration of socio-political issues more compelling when it retains a certain neutrality in tone and content (and for that matter when it avoids putting too much of one's ego into the work). An excellent recent example of such neutrality is Alan Weisman's The World Without Us. And it's here that this book loses me. I find myself, for instance, wondering why Jewish issues seem to come up so persistently in How Soccer Explains the World. The relentless cheering for one viewpoint seems odd in a book that goes to great lengths to depict the hazards of such affiliation.

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rand()m quote

Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.

—John Gardner