I've read a lot of books about sports in my relatively short time on this planet and while I have really enjoyed many of them and reread a few multiple times, this was definitely the first sports-related book I have ever NOT wanted to finish. Based on my rating, you can tell I mean this in a completely positive way: this book was easily one of the most informative and engaging texts I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
The main point of this text is the history of soccer (or football, whichever you may prefer - I'm an American, so soccer it is), which is clear from the subtitle on the cover. Yet there is so, so, so much more contained within the roughly 900 pages that span the book's binding. You have a lot of politics, great human successes and failures, stories of survival and disaster, as well as small passages that set you in a certain time and space where Goldblatt takes you to a scene important to the chapter or section.
For a well-read fan of the game, the importance of this book lies in the first half of it, as Goldblatt starts from the very beginning, discussing ball games of the ancient world, moving to the late 19th century and the creation of the English FA and the FA Cup, the development of professionalism (both accepted and hidden) versus amateurism, and while he obviously takes the history all the way to the present, the first half of the book opens up a history of the sport that many know absolutely nothing about. Soccer in the first half of the 20th century is not a well-known history, one Goldblatt marvelously elucidates.
For those who like the sport but know little about it, the book shows you how much there was to soccer before the advent of the Premier League, corporate sponsorship, and 32 teams in the World Cup. Goldblatt does a tremendous job of really digging into the social and political implications and uses of the sport in various countries, from the first world to the third.
Perhaps the most impressive part is that this text is all-inclusive. You don't just get a history of European soccer with a decent bit about South America and occasional mentions or anecdotes from Africa, North America, Australia, or Asia. Goldblatt delves into every continent's history and relationship to the game, truly showing how soccer really is the global game. All in all, this is a fantastic read and I highly recommend it to anyone.