The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup, edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey has a unique concept. There is an essay for each of the 32 teams who qualified for the 2006 World Cup. It’s surprising that two Americans would come up with this idea, given the lack of a soccer mentality in this country, but maybe it would take a soccer outsider to even think of writing about the game from the viewpoint of culture of each country. We read this in our family book group and voted on the essays in four rounds, until we ended up with a stand-off between Brazil and the United States. The United States won, probably the only time we’ll ever win a World Cup, because of the funny, engaging writing of Dave Eggers, but there were many other essays that we all loved that gave a unique viewpoint on the country in question. I was a big fan of England: Nick Hornby is a favorite writer of mine who does not disappoint as he talks about the woes and worries of the soccer fan. One problem is that the writers are not all local to the countries, some like Swedish writer Henning Mankel, used to live in Angola, so he gets that country. Some essays, like Portugal, seem only slightly about soccer. My favorites are the ones that use soccer as a lens through which to view the country, such as Croatia, Costa Rica, Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands, often arriving at insights into national character and sensibilities. One of my favorite parts is the editors’ introduction where they talk about how they got the idea in the first place and the agony during the qualifying rounds when a particular favorite author would be knocked off the roster. When I first heard of this book, I think it was a review in The New Yorker, the reviewer made the point that it would be a shame if this book was not read once the 2006 World Cup was over. I think that is still true, and I’m actually looking forward to the next World Cup when a second edition might be warranted.