Former New York Times sports columnist George Vescey made a career of covering people and places off the beaten path. As national correspondent for the New York Times, he spent weeks in Appalachia in the 1970s talking with coal miners and their families. As a religion reporter, he interviewed the Dalai Lama. And when he first started covering the World Cup, beginning at the 1982 tournament in Spain (at which Italy took down Germany in the final match), it was still out of the ordinary for an American sports writer to take interest in the international game.
World Cup soccer brought him some unforgettable experiences: "When you see lightly clad Brazilian women dancing down the Rambla in Barcelona to a Samba beat, you tend to remember," Vescey says. Now, as he turns 75 just before this year's knock-out stage begins, his book Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer, traces his timeline through the sport, beginning as a teenager in Queens through the Klinsmann era with the U.S. national team.
On a Saturday morning phone call from his home office in New York, Vescey listed off 10 great soccer books anyone who finds themselves falling in love with the Beautiful Game should investigate. So if you're off to the beach between matches, away from radio, TV, or cell service, bring along Fever Pitch, Among the Thugs, or Soccer in Sun and Shadow, or any of the others on this list to maintain your soccer high.
Soccer in Sun and Shadow, by Eduardo Galeano
"This is sheer reading. This is literature we're talking about, not hack soccer writing like mine," Vescey says of Uruguayan author Galeano's paean to soccer, published in 1995. The book is held in such high esteem, for example, that it's required reading in college anthropology classes that deal with sport's impact on society. The book is an easily digestible compendium of mini-essays, including sections discussing: "How is soccer like God?" the ways soccer can be compared to war, and the collective hatred of referees by fans of every nation. Nothing sums up the artistry of Galeano's work than this profound idea: "When good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle, and I don't give a damn which team or country performs it."