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Far Afield

S.L. Price's new book is exceptionally ambitious.

First, he leaves the sports scene with which he's been familiar since childhood...a scene dominated by the N.F.L., the N.B.A., Major League Baseball, NASCAR, and college football and basketball. Then he plunks himself down in France at a time when French reaction to Americans ranges from spitting to cursing. Next he starts going to cricket matches and soccer games. Eventually he concludes that driving in Athens ought to be recognized as a competitive sport.

The result of all this risk-taking is a terrific book. Immersion in a culture other than his own gives Price the opportunity to appreciate all sorts of new experiences, some of them having to do with sports, some not. It also gives him an excellent perspective from which to view the way in which President Bush and his accomplices have alienated former allies around the world and made the United States an object of fear and ridicule throughout Europe and beyond.

The subjects about which Price writes — the Olympics, the function of a game (cricket) in the terrible relations between India and Pakistan, and the mind of Lance Armstrong, for example — are intriguing. The bonus is that Price is a terrific writer. Of approaching customs in Pakistan "on the eve of the one year anniversary of the start of the Iraq war," he writes: "Senses gone woolly, nerves jangling as if you've lost six layers of skin. The feeling only gets magnified when you're paranoid to begin with, when it's the West's worst month since 9/11 and you arrive, for the first time ever in an Islamic land, and notice you're the only Western faces there. The crowd is thick, pushy. The unspoken limits of personal space shrink to mere inches. No one else brushes the flies away."

Obviously anybody reading Far Afield is going to learn a lot. Only some of the learning will have anything to do with sports. Price himself learns a great deal as a result of his year abroad, too, and he's brave enough to let the reader in on the process of that learning.

This program aired on September 7, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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