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The Soccer War

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  3,350 ratings  ·  223 reviews
Part diary and part reportage, The Soccer War is a remarkable chronicle of war in the late twentieth century. Between 1958 and 1980, working primarily for the Polish Press Agency, Kapuscinski covered twenty-seven revolutions and coups in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. Here, with characteristic cogency and emotional immediacy, he recounts the stories behind his ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published February 4th 1992 by Vintage (first published 1969)
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Average rating 4.18  · 
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 ·  3,350 ratings  ·  223 reviews

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Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I am living on a raft in a side-street in the merchant district of Accra. The raft stands on pilings, two-storeys high, and is called the Hotel Metropol… In the tropics, drinking is obligatory. They frequently drink during the daytime, but in the evening the drinking is mandatory; the drinking is premeditated. After all, it is the evening that shades into night, and it is the night that lies in wait for anyone reckless enough to have spurned alcohol.

The opening words of the book. The chapter “Th
One of the many short stories in this collection, The Soccer War explains the war between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969, kicked off by a series of 1970 Football World Cup qualifying matches. It is an interesting story, but a slightly misleading title for this book.

Until I started reading, I didn't realise it was short stories (or reportage pieces), although to be fair they are of a similar theme, often interconnected or consecutive, and apparently in a linear timeline. The theme is described
Jun 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
And yet again, another book that taught me not to whine and write about how the trip was uncomfortable, the food was bad, the mosquitoes were huge, the leeches were everywhere, etc etc. These trivialities don't deserve to be mentioned in books. But if you are staring at the barrel of a gun pointed in your direction by a jittery boy no older than 8 years old in an improvised checkpoint in the middle of night, then that's something to write about. ...more
Jay Green
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Not a perfect book of reportage but near as dammit. The first Kapuscinski book I've read and won't be the last. Extraordinarily vivid and lucid writing. Reminded me a little of Graham Greene in the flatness of tone and matter-of-fact descriptions of the grim, gruesome, and picaresque, but it's what you want from a war journalist. A Hunter S. Thompson with more restraint and fewer drugs. Loved it. ...more
Jan 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
p.145: The desk. "Behind such a desk, man resembles an invalid in an orthaepedic brace . . . Furniture divides man from man . . . Upon the desk I have declared a silent war. . . . Many thinkers worry over the progressive bureaucratization of the world and the social threat of its terror. Yet they forget that these very bureaucrats are themselves terrorized, and that they are terrorized by their desks. Once plunked down behind one, a man will never learn to tear himself free."
p. 190: "Today one h
May 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book. The difference between Kapuscincki and the average person could be summed up in an anecdote he relates in this book. One evening he was drinking (heavily, as usual) in a bar in some Third World backwater when a wild-eyed man barges in and starts shouting, "They're killing anyone who goes down that road, stay away!" I'd stay put, might even crawl under the table, Kapuscinski finishes his drink and ventures down the road to see what's happening. Brave man, wonderful writer. ...more
Roy Lotz
Aug 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
It was my good fortune that somebody in my book club chose this little gem to read. I hadn’t heard of Kapuściński before, and perhaps I never would have. Even if I did, I doubt I would have read anything by him. A Polish journalist?

Whenever I try to explain to friends what is so enjoyable about this book, my mind jumps to the writing. Kapuściński is just a damned good writer. He is a master of brevity. He can conjure a scene, a town, a whole country, with just a few paragraphs. He can summon up
Sean Mccarrey
Jan 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
If Travels With Herodotus was Kapuscinski's ode to his passion of travel, if Shadow of the Sun was his ode to Africa, The Emperor and The Shah of Shahs his ode to the rule of despotic and complex characters, Imperium his ode to the era of the Second World, Another Day of Life his ode to the ravages of war, the Other as his ode to philosophy, then the Soccer War seems to be his ode to the feelings of joy and despair in the third world. Not only does Kapuscinski explore his own feelings in such si ...more
Dec 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic. Legendary Polish reporter recounts his time covering Africa, Latin America, and parts of Central Europe in the 60s and 70s in remarkably clean and pithy and luminous writing that pounds away until you realize it's woven a spell around you. Alma Guillermoprieto told our class, as an exercise to improve our writing, that we should copy one page of a good book in longhand every day. I may start doing that with this one. Here's a bit in non-longhand:

The whole land of
In his unmistakable style, in these mostly unconnected essays, Kapuscinski looks at the sheer weirdness of the world around him, whether he's covering the death of Patrice Lumumba or the titular violence surrounding a Honduras-El Salvador football match. While perhaps not as strong as his more concentrated studies-- Travels with Herodotus jumps to mind-- it's still classic Kapuscinski, and if you've made your way through a few of his journalistic works and travelogues, this is a logical next ste ...more
Aug 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommended to Adam by: War Nerd
Stories from a renowned Polish journalist who saw Africa in the sixties: Lumumba's Congo, a coup in newly independent Algeria, the Nigerian civil war, Ethiopian-Somali war and famine, parliamentary debate on a child support bill in Tanganyika (now Tanzania). Plus Israel-Palestine, Cyprus, and the eponymous Soccer War between Honduras and El Salvador, which kicked off because of soccer tensions and lasted one hundred hours, left 6,000 dead, and was missed by the world media who were focused on th ...more
Bob Newman
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Mankind kicks endless own goals

As somebody who once lived in Honduras before the infamous soccer war of 1969, I long had Kapuscinski's book on my "must read" list. Though I bought it in 2000, I didn't get around to reading it till 2005. I'm glad I did. THE SOCCER WAR is another sterling volume from this master of description.

THE SOCCER WAR isn't a book about the absurd war between El Salvador and Honduras, triggered by World Cup qualification matches, but really caused by El Salvador's overpopul
Shivaji Das
Aug 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a collection of essays that individually didn't have enough material to make a whole book from (unlike his Imperium and Shah of Shahs). None the less, it has all the best elements of Kapuscinski reporting - immediacy, non-judgemental, and thoughtfulness. As ususal, he goes places that are quite a few notches uncomfortable than hanging around the Pentagon or Capitol for news snippets - coups and revolutions in Dahomey, Ogaden, Algeria. In a handful of pages, he manages to draw vivid portr ...more
Jun 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was terrific. It's non-fiction, sort of a compilation of articles Kapuscinski wrote in the course of covering coups and revolutions in post-colonial Africa in the 60's and 70's. It would've been easy for him to get caught up in the drama of that experience, but he is really good at relating his experiences to a broader context. Also, I admire the way that he can be incredibly concise-- I've found myself in travel writing to prattle on, to over-explain every little thing. Kapuscinski gi ...more
Jan 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic, other-lit
I see the term "magic journalism" that is coined to describe Kapuscinski's writing is very appropriate. ...more
Aug 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favourites
Having previously read (and thoroughly enjoyed) 'Another day of life' and 'Shah of shahs', I was excited to read yet another one of Kapuscinski's books. As usual I was not disappointed by his excellent writing, weaving in a history lesson with personal reflections on humanity and his own James-Bond-esque escapades. This book is different from the above works however, in that it does not follow one country or story from beginning to end. It is a series of shorter stories following different revol ...more
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating reportage expressed with dazzling, Didion-esque literary flair, interspersed with personal observations marked by charming emotional honesty and a dash of wit. At times the writing was so good I had to put the book down and compose myself before going on.
Dec 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is simply sublime. Read it!
Feb 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ann by: Virginia
"Upon the desk, I have declared a silent war. It is, after all, a specific piece of furniture with particular properties. While many whole categories of furniture may be man's serviceable instruments, his slaves, in the case of the desk a contrary relationship obtains: man is its instrument, its slave. Many thinkers worry over the progressive bureaucratization of the world and the social threat of its terror. Yet they forget that these very bureaucrats are themselves terrorized, and tha
Thurston Hunger
Feb 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: self-embedding journalists
Kapuscinski had the gene that drew him to points on the globe where injustice and violence were festering most. Me, I'll cross over the street if I hear a couple arguing too loudly, and yet I admire Kapuscinski. I also like how he can keep an eye on the bigger scene, while his ear is on the locals, and their own mini-drama.

This book is more ramshackle than others (like Shah of Shahs or Imperium), with several chapters titled something like The Further Adventures of My Unfinished Book. Those cont
Apr 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
kapuscinski's writing typically takes the form of a shared personal journal, and soccer war showcases him at his most diary-oriented. it's quite similar to his memoir the shadow of the sun, only less focused and more scatterbrained. there's even more globe-trotting than usual too - the conflict between el salvador and honduras that gives the book its name doesn't arrive on the scene until 2/3rds of its pages have passed, and we're treated to a half dozen stops in africa before he finds his way t ...more
Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite writers. Brilliant and spare ruminations on his experiences as a journalist covering conflicts in Algeria, Honduras, Ethiopia, DR Congo, Cyprus, and others.

"People who write history devote too much attention to so-called events heard around the world, while neglecting the periods of silence...Silence is necessary to tyrants and occupiers, who take pains to have their actions accompanied by quiet.

"What silence emanates from countries with overflowing prisons! In Somoza's Nicar
Dec 02, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the third Kapuściński book I've read...the others being The Emperor and Shah of Shahs . The two previous ones were about specific people (Haile Selassie and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi respectively) while this one covers wars and revolutions in a variety of places on four continents. The bulk of the book is spent in Africa with quite a bit about the Congo and Patrice Lumumba, but also a lot about Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria, etc.

Then it's off to Central America for the "Soccer War" between
Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
Kapuscinski was one of the greatest reporters around and his books are considered masterpieces in the use of the Polish language. "The Soccer War" was my introduction to this amazing man and, though episodic, the book has its moments of sheer horror. There's that moment when, whilst at a political meeting, you realise that all those around you, baying for blood, only see the colour of your skin - not your nationality. There's the chaos in the Congo when whites are being pulled out into the stree ...more
Nov 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I finished this and immediately started reading it again. It teaches me about places and histories I didn't know enough (or really anything) about before, like the titular soccer war in Central America, and various conflicts in Africa, but it's not all wedged firmly enough in my mind yet so I'm giving it another go. I also kind of really related to something that crept up in a few of Kapuscinski's essays, in which he encounters people who in turn know nothing or next to nothing about his own cou ...more
Mar 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I can imagine the scene in my head. Among a group of journalists someone calls out, “The shit is about to hit the fan in (insert name of shit-hole country).” Then we cut to the street as Ryszard Kapuściński hails a cab. “Taxi, take me to the fan, and step on it!”

There are precious few real journalists these days in our era of Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly making up crap about their exploits as newsmen. First of all, neither of the two are journalists, they are news readers. Television is almo
Nicholas Beck
May 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Beyond superb and a riveting read. Short articles and essays on a variety of conflicts in Africa and elsewhere, eg Cyprus, Kapuscinski launches himself fearlessly and some would say recklessly into situations most us would balk from and freeze in a state of terror. Just read his account of driving into the Congo through numerous roadblocks only to get to his destination and turn back, this time with a somewhat reluctant police escort who may or may not defend him if they are threatened. He has a ...more
Kobe Bryant
May 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
I would've quit the first time my life was threatened ...more
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

“I was waiting for them to set me on fire, because UPGA was burning many people alive. I had seen the burnt corpses. The boss at this roadblock popped me one in the face and I felt a warm sweetness in my mouth. Then he poured benzene on me, because here they burn people in benzene: it guarantees complete incineration.”

This was Kapuscinski recalling the time when he was stopped at a second successive roadblock in the Congo. He narrowly escaped the Spray and lite method also known as the UPGA cand
Oct 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Kapuscinski is one of my favorites. his delectable blend of journalism and travelouge captures the places and moments he inhabits with precision and acuteness. the soccer war is a collection of stories from his wide ranging journeyings as a reporter, these being the experiences behind his official dispatches.

The title comes from a short absurd war fought between honduras and el salvador - stemming from a particularly heated soccer rivalry - of which kapuscinski found himself in the frontlines.
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Ryszard Kapuściński debuted as a poet in Dziś i jutro at the age of 17 and has been a journalist, writer, and publicist. In 1964 he was appointed to the Polish Press Agency and began traveling around the developing world and reporting on wars, coups and revolutions in Asia, the Americas, and Europe; he lived through twenty-seven revolutions and coups, was jailed forty times, and survived four deat ...more

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“A totalitás fogalma csak elméletben létezik, az életben soha. Még a legjobban bevakolt falon is akad valami rés (vagy reméljük, hogy akad, s az már jelent valamit). Még ha az a benyomásunk, hogy már semmi sem működik, akkor is működik valami, s biztosítja a létezés minimumát. Vegyen bár körül a rossz óceánja, zöld és termékeny szigetecskék nyúlnak ki belőle. Látni őket, ott vannak a látóhatáron. Még ha a legrosszabb helyzetben találjuk is magunkat, az is többféle összetevőből áll, s akad közöttük olyan, amelybe bele lehet kapaszkodni, mint a parti bokor ágaiba, hogy a mélybe húzó örvénynek ellen lehessen állni. Ez a rés, ez a sziget, ez az ág tart bennünket a lét felszínén.” 8 likes
“Many thinkers worry over the progressive bureaucratization of the world and the social threat of its terror. Yet they forget that these very bureaucrats are themselves terrorized, and that they are terrorized by their desks. Once plunked down behind one, a man will never learn to tear himself free.” 2 likes
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