The world is divided into two groups of people: those who look forward to the World Cup every four years, and those who don’t realize they’re soccer fans until the World Cup starts.
For the latter, those recent converts to the soccer religion, here is a reading list you’ll want to page through before the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, so you too can become a soccer expert.
2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Official Book by Jon Mattos
The official guide to the World Cup from FIFA is a good place to start for any soccer fanatic, or those who aspire to become one. Filled with colorful design and content, the book contains information about Brazil, soccer culture, and all of the competing teams in the 2014 World Cup, including statistics and player profiles. It also has brief historical accounts on previous World Cup games, dating back to 1930.
The Soccer Diaries: An American’s Thirty-Year Pursuit of the International Game by Michael J. Agovino
Agovino’s love affair with soccer began in New York City as a child which led him to travel to the FIFA World Cup games and document them voraciously. The Soccer Diaries is a story of how an American fell in love with the sport and then pursued matches across Europe while realizing the political and cultural ties soccer has with people around the world.
Golazo!: The Beautiful Game from the Aztecs to the World Cup: The Complete History of How Soccer Shaped Latin America by Andrea Campomar
There is a an extensive history behind soccer in South America, where the rules of the game impact not only a sport but a way of life and politics. “Golazo!” (whichmeans “great goal”) explores the socio-political roots of soccer in South America, and its global influence through the World Cup and the Summer Olympics in 2016.
Soccer Against the Enemy: How the World’s Most Popular Sport Starts and Fuels Revolutions and Keeps Dictators in Power by Simon Kuper
“The rule of thumb is that the less free a country is, the more soccer matters, and it therefore matters very much indeed in North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf.”
Soccer Against the Enemy is not only about soccer, but the obsession behind it. The book looks at the sport’s global appeal, which spans all types of countries and governments, from democracies to dictatorships. Even Osama bin Laden was a fan. Kuper explains how the games have impacted the lives of not only civilians but also people struggling to maintain power in countries like Afghanistan, Ukraine and Iraq.
Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Spain, Germany, and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia—and Even Iraq—Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski
Soccernomics looks at the numbers and predicts the soccer stars of tomorrow. Kuper and Szymanski argue that there is a logical reason why certain countries almost always win, while others always lose. The authors even present a formula for determining a winning team based on a country’s population, wealth and experience with the sport. Let’s see if it pans out this year.
Futebol: Soccer: The Brazilian Way by Alex Bellos
Brazil is one of the favorites to win the World Cup this year and Futebol by Alex Bellos explains why. Bellos takes the time to explain how soccer has not only transformed Brazil, but how Brazil has transformed soccer. The book describes how soccer is played differently in Brazil and how those differences lend an advantage to their team on the field.
8 World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer by George Vecsey
New York Times reporter George Vescey documents the past eight World Cup championships in his aptly titled book, which covers all of the tournaments from Spain in 1982 to South Africa in 2010. In addition to accounts of the games, Vescey provides profiles and interviews from famous soccer leagues and players.
Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy by Dave Zirin
A year ago, Brazilians took to the streets en masse to protest the World Cup; demonstrations have continued during the event this summer. There’s a reason for that: while the country dedicated billions to stadiums for the games, spending on social services has lagged behind what many middle-class Brazilians would like. Along with on-the-ground reporting from favelas, Zirin gives a quick history of Brazil and the cup itself.