How Soccer Explains the World
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by Franklin Foer
272 pages, $24.95
Humankind is rarely more united than once every four years when it comes together for a worship service known as the World Cup. Across the planet, fans watch riveted as Davids slay Goliaths, and Goliaths come raging back. In the last tournament, there were 1.5 billion pairs of eyes fixed on the final match, as Germany battled Brazil for a trophy more prized than any other in the world.
For all its influence as a unifier, however, soccer can also be a powerful divider, and the clannishness it arouses often flows into the streets and beyond—into politics, finance, and deep into the psyches of its fans. Writer Franklin Foer got his first taste of this madness on a 1994 trip through Europe, when he stumbled upon a free entry day at the Spanish soccer club's Barcelona museum. There, in a parking lot packed with people of all ages and from all stations in life, he observed what he describes as their "transcendent enthusiasm." It was, Foer explains, like being a nonbeliever witnessing a religious pilgrimage. And as he watched the faithful pay homage, he too began to believe.
But rather than let his newfound fervor devolve into the kind of pipe-wielding hooliganism he witnessed in other fans, Foer—a self-described egghead—took his love of the game down a more high-minded road. After nearly a decade of thoughtful observation of the game and its place in society, he has written a book on the subject, How Soccer Explains the World, in which he draws a connection between soccer and the politics of identity.