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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

More Global Sport

Friday, July 08, 2005


I have had a bad habit in the past year of starting a book in a frenzy of enthusiasm and not finishing the third chapter. Book after book has literally thrown itself off of the library shelves at me, only to sit neglected on my coffee table for a few weeks (long enough to collect some overdue fines), neglected, hurt.

But alas, here is one I actually finished: Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains The World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. For the sports fan, for the soccer enthusiast, for the politerati, or just for people who enjoy a good read, this book is the ticket.

Iin fact, the soccer enthusiast and the expert in globalization might actually be disappointed. As one review laments, the book doesn't really deliver on the title: it doesn't provide an explanation of the world through soccer, nor does it offer any kind of theory of globalization. In fact, some familiarity with the broader points of the globalization thesis could be required.

That said, the books is delightful. Each chapter describes the state of soccer in a different part of the world (Serbia, Scotland, Brazil, The U.S., just to name a few), using the game as a lens through which to view broader cultural shifts and trends. For example, the Glasgow Rangers/Celtic rivalry is a manifestation of the catholic/protestant conflict that has riddled Scotland and Northern Ireland for two centuries. It's a violent expression of the grievances each side has against the other; it's the everyman, drunk, sportsfan turned paramilitary at the scoring of a goal.

Or consider the example of the corruption of Brazilian soccer officials. Students of globalization have almost universally conceded that the "development" aims of the 1960's (whereby developed nations poured money into under-developed countries in the faith that progress would inevitably result) were an abysmal failure. In places like Brazil, strong cultural currents undermined whatever gains money would have yielded. Sadly, nepotism and corruption were one of the dominant cultural factors. And what better illustration of that than the Brazilian soccer leagues? Foer's explanation is illuminating to the point of being chilling.

When it comes to Franklin Foer, I am (as they say) "a fan." I used a number of his essays and articles in the New Republic to write a seminary paper of sports and globalization. This book will make even the most casual reader a fan too.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:22 AM

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