TBR: How Soccer Explains the World
Today’s book is How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, by Franklin Foer. I picked it up at the store as it seemed like an appropriate book to read while travelling in Europe during the World Cup. It turned out to be a perfect book for travelling — a quick read, divided into self-contained chapters, interesting without being particularly challenging.
Unlike Stephen Jay Gould’s erudite essays about baseball, Foer’s essays aren’t really about the game of soccer. You don’t really need to know anything about the game to enjoy them. Foer writes about soccer fans, players, and owners, often focusing on the dark side of the sport — ethnic hatreds, corruption, violence. He’s particularly fascinated by the persistence of local and national identitites in the face of globalization, and whether that’s inherently a bad thing.
I enjoyed the book, but am not sure how seriously to take Foer’s analysis. One chapter is about soccer in the United States, in particular why some people are so vehemently oppposed to it. Foer argues that they are, in their own way, anti-globalization activitists, objecting to the idea that Americans should like soccer just because the rest of the world does. That seemed reasonable to me, but then he suggests that they’re defensive because baseball, the quintessentially American game, has failed in the global marketplace. That argument doesn’t ring true — baseball is certainly struggling, but the games that it’s losing to (in the US) are US football (which is even more of an international flop) and basketball (which is increasingly an international game itself). The gaps in the one chapter where I actually know something make me wonder whether there are similar holes in the rest of the book.