From the Archives: In which I consider soccer, or at least books about soccer

I first ran this in 2014. Looks like it’s time to run it again.

soccer The World Cup is over and some of you are suffering from soccer* withdrawal. Unlikely though it may seem to those of you who know me in real life,I have some reading suggestions that will let you feed both lingering soccer mania and history curiosity.

Franklin Foer’s How Soccer Explains The World: An {Unlikely} Theory of Globalization looks at soccer as both an international phenomenon and as rooted in “local cultures local blood feuds and even local corruption”. (Think British soccer hooligans, the role of soccer in the Balkan Wars of 1990s, and the success of Jewish soccer clubs in 1920s Europe.) How Soccer Explains the World is a wonderful piece of social/historical reporting and totally accessible for the soccer-challenged.

David Goldblatt’s The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer directly addresses historian Eric Hobsbawm’s observation that “The twentieth century was the American century in every way but one: sport.” Goldblatt describes his work as the only history of the modern world in which the United States is “a transatlantic curiosity rather than a central attraction.” Beginning with ancient games involving a man kicking a ball and ending with soccer in Africa post-Cold War, The Ball is Round is an exhaustive account of history as a game, with a heavy emphasis on “American exceptionalism”.*** At 900 pages, this is a work for the hard-core soccer fan, or perhaps someone with ulterior motives for learning more about the game.

A lagniappe: Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch is a brilliant account of one fan’s relationship to the game, set in a specific time and space. This one is worth reading even if you are sports averse.


*Or football, depending on where you kick the ball.

**A term normally applied to the relative failure of socialism in America. And now that I think of it, there are some interesting parallels between the distribution of soccer and socialism in America. Any social scientists out there looking for a research topic?

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