This is a BIG book! It covers the game from its beginings in England to the modern day, and looks at the game not only from the standard European view, but examines its evolution and effect across the globe - in South America, Africa and Asia, and to a lesser extent, North America and Australia.
Virtually everyone can take something from this book - but I'm not sure how many will read it from cover to cover. I found myself very interested in the chapters on Europe, and also was keen to read about football in South and North America. But I skipped through Asia and Africa pretty briskly - just not enough has happened there yet (from a global perspective) to keep me reading.
Goldblatt does fundamentally misunderstand the game in North America and why women's football has taken off in the USA of all places (he is obviously unaware of Title IX and its extraordinary impact on the growth of the game in the US as he never mentions it!) but seems to have a pretty good grasp of the game in Europe and South America.
Overall, the book is a well written and exhaustive study of the Beautiful Game and deserving of a place on the bookshelf of any football/soccer fan, and indeed, of anyone with a desire to understand the game better.
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If you know very little about soccer's history in various nations across the world, this is a good primer. I found much of it endlessly fascinating (i.e., the fact during WWII some leagues plodded along in Europe or how FIAT's ownership of Juventus and hiring of workers from around Italy sowed the seeds for its nationwide support [or loathing], etc.) but the tying of success or failure to nations' economies or politics can be a stretch at times. After all, let's get real, Brazil and Italy are probably the two powerhouses of world soccer and their governments are most definitely unstable pretty much their entire history. The World Cup titles did not exclusively arise out of periods of political stability.
His analysis of why soccer is not #1 in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US was spot on. The section on Uruguay's early successes is must-reading for any soccer fan to understand the development of soccer in Latin America.
It is definitely a book that is hard to put down and well worth whatever you pay for it. I would say use it as a stepping off point to discover other worthy books on different leagues and nations' soccer cultures (i.e., Morbo by Phil Ball, Tor by Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger, Brilliant Orange by David Winner, Futebol by Alex Bellos, etc.).
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55 of 55 people found the following review helpful
A book which I hoped would never end but I finished far too quicklyFeb. 1 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Colossal yet ReadableJan. 15 2008
Rhodri St. David
- Published on Amazon.com
I found this book to be phenomenal. I must admit that I am a rather new prosylyte to "futbol" or soccer as we call it here in the States. I really new nothing about the history of the sport and very little about modern rules or teams or leagues. That having been said, I found the book to be very informative. Goldblatt begins with the "pre-history" of soccer, exposing many nationalist myths about soccer's origins and placing it firmly into the realm of a Celtic game taken up by elite public school boys in Victorian England.
The chapters dealt with specific subjects and I actually found the book to be extremely well organized. Time periods are gone through and after World War I, Goldblatt begins seperating chapters by region (Latin America from 1934-1954, Europe from 1934-1954, Africa from 1900-1974, Latin America from 1955-1974, etc.).
Having said all of that, what made this book especially interesting to me was the placing of soccer within a much larger context. He takes the narrative of soccer and places it within the meta-narrative of world history, economics, sociology, and anthropology. Soccer serves as the thread through which modern history is successfully traced. The writing is brilliant, at times incredibly deep, but always readable and always urging the reader to continue. Each chapter contains a reflection on a notable match of that time period. These are written in a completely different style than the rest of the book and are absolutely incredible. The writing is brilliant and the imagery is transportive.
All in all, more than deserving of five stars. This soccer "newbie" has become a seasoned vet in a span of less than one thousand pages.
32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Did They Actually Read The Whole Thing?Dec 9 2009
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My title is not directed at other reviewers here, but at the many glowing reviews for this book featured on its cover and first pages. This is not a beautifully written book, the majority of it is extremely tedious, and at its worst the writing is virtually incoherent.
THE BALL IS ROUND is touted as a history of soccer, but it is ultimately a book about world history in the 20th Century, with soccer as the lens through which that history is viewed. This is an important distinction to make, because reading this book will give you little understanding of the tactical evolution of the game, the famous personalities, players, coaches, the legendary moments of triumph and failure, the great rivalries between teams. The book is much more interested in the politcal and historical aspects of the game's history, and much less so in the sporting ones.
Nevertheless, the book is extremely comprehensive in the outlook that it does take. Goldblatt examines the history of the game on practically (often literally) a nation by nation basis, covering the entire world. He divides the book both by historical era and geographical location, so that chapters generally alternate back and forth from one continent to the next while the book proceeds gradually forward through historical time. Unfortunately, much of this content ends up being tedious and scrapped together.
THE BALL IS ROUND starts off well, the sections about the early history of the game are excellent and I recommend them, but after the first one or two hundred pages, the quality of prose and content rapidly decline. Goldblatt approaches this history with a relentless determination both to editorialize it and to cast it in literary terms, leading to often tortured descriptions of situations and events. It becomes a long, slow, uphill slog. There is a lot of information here, but you will really have to work for it. The book's prose and structural coherence gradually disintegrate into an awkward litany of facts and propositions, even to the point of virtual incoherence. For example, "If the Premiereship has come to signal the renascent successes and costs of England's new commercially minded private sector and the tastes of its comfortable middle classes, the fate of the national team has offered more complex readings." Really slow down and try to parse that sentence.
With a lot more editing, and perhaps another year or three of work, I think this book could have realized its high ambitions and been a classic. As it is, it is neither a good historical survey nor an engaging read for the football/soccer enthusiast. There is much to learn about world history and the history of soccer within the pages of THE BALL IS ROUND, and the sections on the early history of the sport are really very good, but the middle sections of the book lack structure and are poorly written. It gets a bit better again towards the end.
One interesting thing this book revealed was how rife with corruption the entire history of the sport of soccer has been. Goldblatt does not shy away from these ugly moments, which are often swept under the rug by other books and commentators.
I wish I could give this book a more positive review, but I have to be honest. I know of few readers who would push past the two or three hundred page mark on this one, and perhaps that is why there are only a handful of reviews here in spite of the sport's surging popularity in the US. Being stubborn and reading the whole thing like I did is unlikely to be a satisfying use of your time.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
The Football BibleJan. 29 2008
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This is amazing, wide ranging work that tells the story of football (soccer) and places it in the social context of the times. It is a dense and scholarly work which covers a lot of world history and social class because football does not stand on it's own as simply a game but it is much more important than life and death(to paraphrase Bill Shankly's famous quote). Goldblatt is a very good writer who had me reaching for the Dictionary, who is able to synthesize the rich history of world football into a readable account. I appreciate the match accounts from great matches. I see this book as an companion to the excellent History of Football BBC series. The only drawback with this book is that it should have more photos
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Must Have for Soccer Fans!Aug. 19 2010
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I have had a dabbling interest in soccer for a few years now, mostly watching EPL games, and whatever MLS games I can find locally. I really started to get more into the game globally since the 2010 World Cup. I thought this book might help me 'catch up' on the culture surrounding The Beautiful Game, and boy, was I right!
The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer is a great read for long time fans, or people just new to the sport. As an American, it is hard to comprehend how the rest of the world has been shaped by this game. Just as baseball is interwoven into the fabric of American modern history, so too is football (or soccer) for the rest of the world. From rebuilding the proud heritage of Germany and Eastern Europe after World War II, to helping England move from an empirical power to a member of a global community, to sparking social, political, and criminal revolutions in South America, and bringing both European and South American culture to the African continent, football has helped shape most of the modern civilizations currently thriving on our planet, and there is no better way to experience these effects than through this incredibly comprehensive text.
I should include a disclaimer, if you do not really, REALLY like the sport, this probably isn't the book for you. While there is much modern world history interspersed with the minutiae of football's past, there are probably better options from a strictly historical perspective. If, however, you are interested in seeing how cultures across the globe have evolved through sport, there is no better text.
So the next time you insult a linesman, post a harsh comment on a soccer blog, or lambaste your team for not adding a new striker, take heart that you are a member of a world community. If you want to know more, David Goldblatt will be happy to educate you.