Young journalist Kuper travelled around the world like a madman to gather the stories of soccer's relationship to politics and culture collected in the book's twenty chapters. The result is a book that will delight anyone with an interest in the world's most popular sport, and will intrigue those interested in the world beyond their boundries. The book's sole flaw is a certain choppiness, which is partially due to the haphazard nature of his travels, and partly due to Kuper's perhaps overambitious goal of examining how soccer "affects the life of a country" and "how the life of a country affects its football." Concentrating on one or the other would have given the book the focus it lacks-but that doesn't detract from its power.
Kuper uses soccer as a lens to look at the most central issues of the modern world race (South Africa), religion (Ireland and Scotland), culture (Brazil), totalitarianism (Argentina & East Germany), corruption (Ukraine), poverty (Africa), and especially nationalism (Holland, Slovakia, Catalonia, Serbia).E ven those who dismiss sport as an "opiate of the massess" and don't care for soccer will be forced to acknowledge the sport's popularity and centrality, especially in less-developed nations. Each chapter is a stand-alone piece, with lengths varrying from 5-25 pages or so, perfect for reading on the bus or just before bed. The only other cavaet on the book is that it does often seem rather dated, and one keeps wishing it was a bit fresher. Still, this is a great bit of journalism and one every soccer fan should read.