Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How Soccer Explains the World

Many months ago I was browsing a library book sale and I saw this book. "Wait a minute....FRANKLIN Foer?" I knew it had to be a relative of Jonathan and Joshua. Sure enough, it's their older brother. How much freakin' writing talent can you have in one family? I mean, when the least notorious of the lot is the editor of The New Republic. Good googly moogly.

Franklin is just as good as Jonathan and Joshua. Well, maybe not as I'm only giving this book one star. It might be the topic matter more than Franklin's talent. The book is ten chapters on soccer in various countries of the world and how the game of soccer has impacted race, religion, economics, politics and culture in those countries.

It's quite a fascinating book. I had no idea how long soccer had been around and the impact it has had in other countries. Sometimes I think Foer might be stretching the connections a bit - similar to Marty Lindstrom's brain stuff - and making the impact of soccer greater than it actually is. There's enough truth apparent, though, to realize that there is an effect, even if it isn't as great as it's made out to be.

Surprisingly, too, this book made me a little disappointed in baseball. Even the most intense baseball fan seems to have nothing on the soccer fans of the world. And baseball and politics? Religion? I finished Foer's book feeling like baseball was a little flat. It doesn't help that between this book and Brilliant Orange, I've probably read as many good books about a sport I don't like as I have a sport I love. OK, that's an exaggeration but not by much.

Maybe it has something to do with the games. Baseball definitely seems to me to be more cerebral, more quantified. It's those damn sabrmagicians, ruining the game with their numbers! Soccer is definitely more global and as such, has it's own different cultural styles. Baseball in Chicago is played the same way as it is in Amish country. You don't have Chicago-style ball (and really, when has there ever been any baseball stylized by a region? Baltimore in the 1890's, maybe. You can't argue for McGraw's New York teams since Brooklyn and the Highlanders weren't showing the same style. It was McGraw and not New York. Oakland and Moneyball? I don't think that had to do with anything with the city of Oakland). See what I mean? Baseball's sort of simple.

That's probably why I'm giving this book one star. Foer shatters my belief in the greatness of America's Pastime and for that I curse him. Seriously, though, it was a good book. And baseball is still a great game. I wish a Foer would write about it.

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