Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer

Let me start by saying that I loved this book. It was phenomenal. Franklin Foer, frequent columnist for Slate magazine online and life-long soccer fan, set out to write a book that would use soccer as a window into the tangled web of current affairs that is globalization. In How Soccer Explains the World, Foer doesn’t so much explain globalization through what he calls “the beautiful game” as he does provide case studies of the political, economic and social developments surrounding soccer in recent years as a result of increased international dependency. Divided into ten concise histories, the book uses various football clubs around the world to show how globalization has affected tribalism (through soccer hooligans of England), ethnic relations, sectarianism, anti-Semitism, corruption, advertising, oligarchies, oppression of women in Islamic nations and American culture wars. It was a bit over my head at times, as I’m not a very politically or economically minded person, but I finished it feeling informed.

Foer is a great storyteller, and more than anything I loved reading his well-informed anecdotes, particularly about the use of the game as a force for political and social change by oppressed Iranian women. He even went on to propose a hypothesis as to why soccer is so unpopular in the United States: yuppie upper-middle class families latched onto the sport as being cosmopolitan and European, and many Americans have resented them for attaching themselves to what they consider the opposite of the most American sport, which, for many, is baseball. It’s a shame too, because after reading this book, I’d love more than ever to be able to watch more matches.

I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the cross-currents of globalization, and the ways that it’s transformed aspects of politics, economy and society in the examples that Foer presents. Although, if you don’t give a rat’s ass about soccer, this book probably is not for you; the most exciting, invigorating writing is reserved for tales of last-minute victories or brawls between emotionally charged fans. It was a highly interesting, highly informative quick read, and one that I’ll be adding to my list of favorites.

(By the way, Franklin Foer is the brother of Jonathan Safran Foer, but I swear that isn’t why I read this book)


Christopher said...

I had no idea he and Jonathan Safran were brothers. I think that Foer is an editor for the New Republic, too.

Nathan said...

I had an inkling, so I Wikipedia'd that shit.