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How Soccer Explains the World:
The global power of soccer might be a little hard for Americans, living in a country that views the game with the same skepticism used for the metric system and the threat of killer bees, to grasp fully. But in Europe, South America, and elsewhere, soccer is not merely a pastime but often an expression of the social, economic, political, and racial composition of the communities that host both the teams and their throngs of enthusiastic fans. New Republic editor Franklin Foer, a lifelong devotee of soccer dating from his own inept youth playing days to an adulthood of obsessive fandom, examines soccer's role in various cultures as a means of examining the reach of globalization. Foer's approach is long on soccer reportage, providing extensive history and fascinating interviews on the Rangers-Celtic rivalry and the inner workings of AC Milan, and light on direct discussion of issues like world trade and the exportation of Western culture. But by creating such a compelling narrative of soccer around the planet, Foer draws the reader into these sport-mad societies, and subtly provides the explanations he promises in chapters with titles like "How Soccer Explains the New Oligarchs", "How Soccer Explains Islam's Hope", and "How Soccer Explains the Sentimental Hooligan." Foer's own passion for the game gives his book an infectious energy but still pales in comparison to the religious fervor of his subjects. His portraits of legendary hooligans in Serbia and Britain, in particular, make the most die-hard roughneck New York Yankees fan look like a choirboy in comparison. Beyond the thugs, Foer also profiles Nigerian players living in the Ukraine, Iranian women struggling against strict edicts to attend matches, and the parallel worlds of Brazilian soccer and politics from which Pele emerged and returned. Foer posits that globalization has eliminated neither local cultural identities nor violent hatred among fans of rival teams, and it has not washed out local businesses in a sea of corporate wealth nor has it quelled rampant local corruption. Readers with an interest in international economics are sure to like How Soccer Explains the World, but soccer fans will love it. --John Moe [via]