Three Books To Ignite Your World Cup Fever Though the 2010 FIFA World Cup is still weeks away, writer Cord Jefferson feels Americans could do with an early tune-up on the world's most popular sport. Here are three books to put your soccer ball in motion.
NPR logo Three Books To Ignite Your World Cup Fever



You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Soccer's star has been rising here in the U.S., but the sport is not nearly as big here as is it just about everywhere else in the world. If you're among those who think soccer is - well, a bit boring, writer Cord Jefferson thinks he can change your mind. Here's his contribution to our Three Books series, where authors recommend three books on one theme.

Mr. CORD JEFFERSON (Writer): As a soccer fanatic, I can't understand why my favorite sport isn't more popular in the United States. One guess is that rarely does it appear on the country's cultural landscape. Sure, "Bend it Like Beckham" was a breakout hit, but it was no "Hoosiers" or "Bull Durham."

Thankfully, some of my favorite authors have been filling in for neglectful screenwriters. Here are three books perfect for convincing American naysayers to tune into World Cup 2010, which begins in South Africa in less than a month.

Piggybacking off the success of pop-econ book "Freakonomics," writer Simon Kuper and economist Stefan Szymanski joined forces for "Soccernomics." Unlike baseball fans, soccer supporters are notoriously averse to numbers. That's what makes Kuper and Szymanski's research so important.

Using data about seemingly unrelated topics - like scoring percentages and racism - the authors pieced together fascinating theories about how soccer has evolved and where it's headed. They're so fascinating that you might forget how ugly soccer can be.

In the 1980s, journalist Bill Buford immersed himself in the violent, angry, beer-drenched world of British football hooliganism. The book he emerged with, "Among the Thugs," is a thorough and often frightening account of the underclass rage that tinges so many soccer rivalries.

Buford's darkly humorous writing takes the reader to pubs and stadiums throughout Europe, introducing him to fans who live and die - sometimes literally - by the successes of their teams.

In America, our sports are pastimes. "Among the Thugs" is a reminder that in soccer cities, their sport is tribal warfare.

For all its pockmarks, there's a reason they call soccer the beautiful game. British sports photographer Levon Biss shows us how gorgeous it can be with "One Love," a collection of soccer photos from 26 countries on six continents.

From laughing Peruvian women playing in skirts to professionals huddled in prayer in South Africa, Biss' subjects come together under the umbrella of the world's most popular sport.

Interspersed with the photographs are quotes from some of soccer's most notable. My favorite is from former Portuguese star Eusebio, who said: Black or white, we all have football under our skin.

Perhaps the main reason soccer is so well-loved is because it's easy to play. With just a ball and a few square yards, you've got yourself a game.

I believe great art should be similar in scope, something open to everyone who wants to expand their view of the world. The relationship between the two is something serious soccer fans have known for years. To quote the wonderful Hungarian player Ferenc Puskas: I will write of my life as a footballer as if it were a love story.

NORRIS: Cord Jefferson is a writer and editor. His Three Books suggestions are "Soccernomics," by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski; "Among the Thugs," by Bill Buford; and "One Love," by Levon Biss.

For more Three Books essays, as well as book reviews and interviews with authors, go to

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.