Book review: How Soccer Explains the World

With a title like How Soccer Explains the World, the book projects ambitions of grand scale storytelling. For the most part, author Franklin Foer lives up to the hype.

The full title is an even more grandiose How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. A truer title might have been How the World Explains Soccer because in a lot of the stories Foer tells (each chapter is about a different team, set of teams or part of the world with only minor connections or threads throughout) it's the politics, societal norms or setting that made a team or a fan base the way it is.

There's a chapter on the Celtic/Rangers rivalry that explains the history of why the rivalry is so bitter and why an Irish conflict took place in Scotland. There's a chapter on teams with large Jewish fan bases and how that affected the team and what the fans endured.

There are plenty of great standalone stories. If you find a book with that title intriguing, you are probably looking for the history of how a culture can affect a team and how a team reflects that culture. That's what this book delivers.

The best section is probably towards the end that provides a brief history of the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry. FC Barcelona has become not only a symbol of pride for Catalonia, but also of nationalism, even as Catalonia and Barcelona have a history of welcoming outsiders and outside influences. The story Foer tells in this chapter make me want to read a whole book about it (of which I'm sure there are many).

The nature of the separate stories make the book easy to put down and read in smaller chunks, but that also prevents it from being memorable as a whole. Some sections are more compelling than others. That said, the book delivers on its promise and is worth reading if you want to learn about the history of a seemingly random team in Serbia in the same book as reading about some of the premier rivalries in the sport.

Up next: The Arsenal Yankee

Filed under: Soccer books

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