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The Miracle of Castel di Sangro: A Tale of Passion and Folly in the Heart of Italy [Paperback]

Joe McGinniss
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 6 2000
Master storyteller Joe McGinniss travels to Italy to cover the unlikely success of a ragtag minor league soccer team--and delivers a brilliant and utterly unforgettable story of life in an off-the-beaten-track Italian village.

When Joe McGinniss sets out for the remote Italian village of Castel di Sangro one summer, he merely intends to spend a season with the village's soccer team, which only weeks before had, miraculously, reached the second-highest-ranking professional league in the land. But soon he finds himself embroiled with an absurd yet irresistible cast of characters, including the team's owner, described by the New York Times as "straight out of a Mario Puzo novel," and coach Osvaldo Jaconi, whose only English word is the one he uses to describe himself: "bulldozer."  

As the riotous, edge-of-your-seat season unfolds, McGinniss develops a deepening bond with the team, their village and its people, and their country. Traveling with the miracle team, from the isolated mountain region where Castel di Sangro is located to gritty towns as well as grand cities, McGinniss introduces us to an Italy that no tourist guidebook has ever described, and comes away with a "sad, funny, desolating, and inspiring story--everything, in fact, a story should be" (Los Angeles Times).

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Product Description

From Amazon

We already knew Joe McGinniss could chill our blood (Fatal Vision) and arouse both our pity and distaste for the Kennedys (The Last Brother), but who knew he could be so funny? (Well, maybe readers who remember The Selling of the President back in 1968.) Even those who have no interest in soccer--the majority of Americans, he ruefully admits--will relish the author's vivid account of a team from Castel di Sangro, a tiny town in Italy's poorest region, that against all expectations made it to the national competition. Whether he's chronicling his ordeal at possibly the least-inviting hotel in Italy (the heat doesn't come on until October, no matter the temperature; he is assigned to a room up four flights of stairs though there are no other guests), or sketching a colorful cast of characters that includes the team's sinister owner and an utterly unflappable translator, McGinniss prompts roars of laughter as he reveals an Italy tourists never see. He also saddens readers with a shocking final scene in which he confronts the nation's casual corruption, which taints men he's come to respect and even love. Although not a conventional memoir, this stirring book reveals as much about the author's passionate character as about the nation and the players who win his heart, then break it. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

With the growing popularity of soccer in North America, McGinniss, author of numerous best-selling works of narrative nonfiction (Blind Faith, LJ 1/89), has written the rags-to-riches story of how an Italian soccer team, Castel di Sangro from the Abruzzi region, rose through the ranks from the very bottom (Terza Categoria) to the Serie BAa remarkable feat. There are eight steps to reach the world's best league, the Serie A. The Italian press was motivated by the achievement of Castel di Sangro, referring to the club as the "Lilliputi." More than a mere history of the team's improbable season, this book provides the reader with insights into the passionate world of Italian soccer. The journey documents the trials and tribulations surrounding a professional sports team. Certainly a good read for soccer fans as well as for other sports enthusiasts; recommended for purchase where demand warrants.
-ALarry Robert Little, Penticton P.L., BC
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good book in spite of the author Nov. 29 2003
Inside there is a great story of uncelebrated heroes, and villians, behind what might be considered the more mundane situation -- that a soccer team from a small village manages promotion to a B league with the season-long goal of surviving. Along the way, there are many great details of the local players, supporters, life within Serie B soccer, and the fabric of society in a small, working-class Italian hillside town. Set on this smaller stage, the story has it all -- life, death, compassion, greed, character, and corruption -- woven together with many amusing and curious subtexts and insights about a "strainero" trying to fit in to a whole other culture and language.
The story is a great success at real-life drama. The only unfortunate part is that the story slowly unravels how much the author completely blew a real opportunity to fit in more and delve deeper beneath the surface of his adopted society -- opting more and more to impose his own self-righteous mindset and judgement on matters (he was as much a "bulldozer" as he accused the soccer team's manager of being) rather than taking a step back to learn more about the inner workings of another culture. This isn't ethnocentrism or even an example of American arrogance -- the author simply self-destructed at his mission to respect, observe, and ask in order to learn and report.
Even so, the book is a great success in spite of the author's mistakes. He gained access to a remote, close-knit community amidst the throes of of several major events -- also capturing moments of great humor. The author's detailed accounting of his conversations and experiences there makes it a fascinating story in its own right.
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By Weegee
I don't want to spoil it for people who may read, so I'll try to beat around the bush.
I would have liked a follow up chapter of "where are they now" and "what happened to the team". If anybody knows, please email luigib@ragingbull.com.
McGinnis leaves the town with a sour taste in his mouth, nonetheless, it would have brought closure to find out what happened to these people. Much like if you were ever dumped by someone, life goes on, but you do wonder "what ever happened to such and such"
Beside that, good reading, lots of great stories about Italian life, culture, geography, history. Good book for soccer fans, great book for a study in small town life and big city problems.
I was disappointed in lack of pictures as well. Not even a team shot. I guess with the ending and the accusations, I understand why, but still disappointed.
The writer is very opinionated and inserts himself into the story more often than not. This is not a fly on the wall recount.
Recommendation: worth a read, but prepare yourself for some very slanted ideas and some self promotion. It seems like there was even a better story out there, but it just wasn't captured all the way... maybe 80%
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By A Customer
This was one of the few books that I bought on a whim. I saw it prominently displayed on a shelf at my local bookstore and immediately recognized the potential for a great story. As a lifelong fan of the game as well as Italian culture (I'm an American but lived off of the Ligurian coast for three years as a child), I couldn't wait to read a book that I thought would strengthen these passions. Instead, what I got was the classic story of an Ugly American. McGinniss consistently revelled in his ignorance of the foreign behaviors that he stumbled upon, conveying a clear disrespect for the people in this story. I'm all for writers taking on foreign cultures and relating their unique aspects to readers. But such endeavers require subtlety and the ability to observe without interfering--qualities that McGinniss does not possess. For me, this subtext completely overwhelmed what could have been a very good story. I rarely quit reading a book, feeling that I need to be open to perspectives that I am not completely attuned to. However, McGinniss gave me one of those very rare opportunites to permanently drop an unfinished book, guilt free. I can't say I'm grateful.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The tragedy of Castel di Sangro April 9 2003
It is easy to compare two recent books about Italian football written by foreigners. Both follow a full 38-match season of teams that are, at times, surprising and mediocre, sometimes simultaneously. Avoiding relegation to a lower division is the major impetus for both teams, not a national championship. One is coming off a miracle, the other hoping for and heading for one. And there are significant differences. Unlike Tim Parks in ´¿A season with Verona,´¿ McGinniss has direct access to the players and coach, although only brief, menacing contact with the owner. Parks acted as a fan, lived and died with the team while he stayed with his family, became very familiar with other fans, and lived a normal home life between matches. McGinniss lived alone in a cold apartment, away from his family in America; he has too much time on his hands. Parks had been a lifelong fan from Britain. McGinniss came to the game much later in life. And it shows.
The ´¿miracle´¿ of Castel di Sangro, a town of 5,000 hearty souls high in the mountains east of Rome, occurs before McGinniss arrives. What transpires while he is there might be better described as tragedy, without farce. There is death, drama, drugs and sex. Travel to play matches offers some glimpses of Italian life and land, but very little. He is more than a little pleased with his self-evaluation of the Castel di Sangro players, and not shy about saying so. McGinniss irritatingly inserts himself into disputes and advises the coach on players and tactics. He tries to play agent for a promising goalkeeper, but can´¿t convince the American coach to take him. He can identify a rotten, corrupt referee like an expert.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Highly entertaining and a good read, even for a non soccer fan, but particularly if you are a fan.
Published 1 month ago by Serigi
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Fanatic is a fan in a madhouse"- Eduardo Galeano
Reviewer: tom cieszinski from United States
The above quote is found on page 345 of this book and a renowned author in his own right, of various books, including one on... Read more
Published on April 17 2004 by Tom Plum
3.0 out of 5 stars Book about a miracle reveals story of corruption and sadness
I'm a sucker for sports books so I was eager to read this one. Not being a soccer fan, it was cool to read about the author's passion of soccer. Read more
Published on March 20 2004 by Retesh D. Shah
5.0 out of 5 stars Lo miracolo - an american interferes
The single most superb football book I have ever read, with a narrative and plotline that would be a feat of tremendous inmagination if fiction is made more shocking by the fact... Read more
Published on Nov. 30 2003 by "danjrussell"
2.0 out of 5 stars Great Story ruined by annoying author
The actual story that is supposed to be told would have been a great story. However, the arrogance and poor writing style of the author made me cringe every time I turned the... Read more
Published on Sept. 9 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!!!
What a terrific book! Great story (greed, corruption, comradeship, triumph, tragedy, comedy), and wonderful insights into both professional soccer and the Italian mindset. Read more
Published on July 13 2003 by Moochie
1.0 out of 5 stars American Arrogance
Although the book purports to speak to a year in the life of an Italian football team, it rather highlights typical American arrogance. Read more
Published on June 16 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars italian balls
great and easy read...went beyond football. It shed light on several historical facts as well as politics.
Published on March 26 2003 by forza roma
5.0 out of 5 stars eloquent and elegant account
This book is part travel journal, personal diary, sociological study, and football/sport analysis.
This is a fantastic, eloquent and elegant account of a small, rural,... Read more
Published on March 17 2003 by Robertomelbourne
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