This well written and thoughtful book is an interesting examination of the recent history of the French national football team. In the mid- to late 1990s, the team was simply superb, winning both the World Cup and the European Championship. Its most famous player, Zinedine Zidane, and several other members of the team were either children of non-white immigrants from former French colonies or born in former colonies. After the World Cup victory, the team was hailed as the showing the promise of racial integration in France. Concentrating on the life stories of Zidane and the outstanding defender Lilian Thuram, Dubois discusses the recent history of French football in the context of France's colonial past, the effects of de-colonialization, and the complex politics of race in France. Dubois shows the way football was used both by colonial administrators and by restive colonials as a political and social tool. Free of sociological jargon, the book is a nice balance of historical scholarship, social analysis, narrative of the lives of the protagonists, and the sporting history itself.
The quality of writing is very good and the analysis, as befits a knowledgeable historian, is thorough. This is well beyond the facile "Soccer Explains the World" journalism and this book provides an interesting view of French imperialism and French society. There are some areas where Dubois might have provided some additional explanation or analysis. Unlike the USA, France is a nominally color-blind society. By and large, no affirmative action and no "diversity" programs, a real difference from the US response to ethnic diversity. Dubois' primary research interest has been the French Empire, and its not surprising that he emphasizes the Imperial-Colonial aspect of the story. But there are more strictly French aspects that are relevant. As Dubois points out, France has absorbed large numbers of immigrants in this century, and some of the controversy about immigrants today is strongly reminiscent of the controversies of 1930s, when the objects of conservative attacks were the Armenian, Jewish, :Polish, and Russian immigrants admitted in the 1920s. Indeed, a couple of the members of the great 1998 team were the descendants of that wave of immigration. There is also some continuity in those who attacked the makeup of the French national team. A repeatedly quoted figure in this book is the repellent conservative populist Jean-Marie Le Pen. The latter's political pedigree runs back to the 1950s and the Poujadist movement, and through Poujade back to some of the reactionary political movements of the 1930s.