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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Americans are fond of jokes that play on our incomprehension of soccer, and, at times, this ignorance seems an apt metaphor for our intellectual disengagement from the world. But we ignore the world-- and its favorite sport--at our peril. In his wonderfully conceived treatise, journalist Foer uses soccer as an arena in which to examine world events, such as Balkan genocide (Serbian gangster Arkan helped form Milosevic's paramilitary troops from among Red Star supporters), and worldviews, such as U.S. culture wars (he uses the game as a metaphor for our divided attitudes about globalization, an issue that underlies our cultural split). Evenhanded and well reported, it's written in a crisp and engaging style that will hook even readers who have no idea how the "beautiful game" is played. Perfectly timed to coincide with soccer's growing coolness (team jerseys are a hipster's must-have), this excellent book belongs with two other great soccer-outsider inquiries, Bill Buford's Among the Thugs
(1992) and Joe McGinniss' The Miracle of Castel di Sangro
(1999). Keir GraffCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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