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Fear and Loathing in La Liga is the definitive history of the greatest rivalry in world sport: FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. It’s Messi vs. Ronaldo, Guardiola vs. Mourinho, the nation against the state, freedom fighters vs. Franco’s fascists, plus majestic goals and mesmerizing skills. It’s the best two teams on the planet going head-to-head. It’s more than a game. It’s a Fear and Loathing in La Liga is the definitive history of the greatest rivalry in world sport: FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. It’s Messi vs. Ronaldo, Guardiola vs. Mourinho, the nation against the state, freedom fighters vs. Franco’s fascists, plus majestic goals and mesmerizing skills. It’s the best two teams on the planet going head-to-head. It’s more than a game. It’s a war. It’s El Clásico. Only, it’s not quite that simple. Spanish soccer expert and historian Sid Lowe covers 100 years of rivalry, athletic beauty, and excellence. Fear and Loathing in La Liga is a nuanced, revisionist, and brilliantly informed history that goes beyond sport. Lowe weaves together this story of the rivalry with the history and culture of Spain, emphasizing that it is “never about just the soccer.” With exclusive testimonies and astonishing anecdotes, he takes us inside this epic battle, including the wounds left by the Civil War, Madrid’s golden age in the fifties when they won five European cups, Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona Dream Team, the doomed Galáctico experiment, and Luís Figo’s “betrayal.” By exploring the history, politics, culture, economics, and language—while never forgetting the drama on the field—Lowe demonstrates the relationship between these two soccer giants and reveals the true story behind their explosive rivalry.


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Fear and Loathing in La Liga is the definitive history of the greatest rivalry in world sport: FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. It’s Messi vs. Ronaldo, Guardiola vs. Mourinho, the nation against the state, freedom fighters vs. Franco’s fascists, plus majestic goals and mesmerizing skills. It’s the best two teams on the planet going head-to-head. It’s more than a game. It’s a Fear and Loathing in La Liga is the definitive history of the greatest rivalry in world sport: FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. It’s Messi vs. Ronaldo, Guardiola vs. Mourinho, the nation against the state, freedom fighters vs. Franco’s fascists, plus majestic goals and mesmerizing skills. It’s the best two teams on the planet going head-to-head. It’s more than a game. It’s a war. It’s El Clásico. Only, it’s not quite that simple. Spanish soccer expert and historian Sid Lowe covers 100 years of rivalry, athletic beauty, and excellence. Fear and Loathing in La Liga is a nuanced, revisionist, and brilliantly informed history that goes beyond sport. Lowe weaves together this story of the rivalry with the history and culture of Spain, emphasizing that it is “never about just the soccer.” With exclusive testimonies and astonishing anecdotes, he takes us inside this epic battle, including the wounds left by the Civil War, Madrid’s golden age in the fifties when they won five European cups, Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona Dream Team, the doomed Galáctico experiment, and Luís Figo’s “betrayal.” By exploring the history, politics, culture, economics, and language—while never forgetting the drama on the field—Lowe demonstrates the relationship between these two soccer giants and reveals the true story behind their explosive rivalry.

30 review for Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid, and the World's Greatest Sports Rivalry

  1. 4 out of 5

    C

    A book about a great rivalry. A book about a great rivalry.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Manveer

    This book is simply incredible! One of the best football related books I’ve ever read, and I've read quite a few! I might never have read this book had I not come across a friend’s review which totally caught my attention. Reading her review made me realize that this book actually held the answers to many of the questions, the answers to which I’ve always wanted. This book tells almost everything one needs to know about the greatest sports rivalry (actually, it’s way more than that!) in the worl This book is simply incredible! One of the best football related books I’ve ever read, and I've read quite a few! I might never have read this book had I not come across a friend’s review which totally caught my attention. Reading her review made me realize that this book actually held the answers to many of the questions, the answers to which I’ve always wanted. This book tells almost everything one needs to know about the greatest sports rivalry (actually, it’s way more than that!) in the world. Lowe has written it from a completely neutral viewpoint, praising as well as criticizing both clubs whenever needed. He has explained the history of both the clubs and the rivalry itself in great detail, providing first hand accounts. Turns out that there is more to this book than just football. The chapters related to the Spanish Civil War and how it shaped the rivalry will definitely clear many misconceptions carried by most fans. Then there’s all the information and anecdotes about Legends on either side, all the way from Di Stefano and Kubala to Ronaldo and Messi. Not just that, the amount of history and culture included in this book is just overwhelming! Not just Barcelona or Real fans, but anyone even remotely interested in football or history or both should give this book a go.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Vivek

    It was my first attempt to read a non-fiction, factual, historical and more importantly a sports-based book. Being a fan of football and Real Madrid, I thought it best to start with this book recommended by a friend. And to say that this book is hugely revealing would be a good start. The book in its entirety does true justice to its title and is a highly successful attempt at analysing the history, the culture, the facts and busting the myths surrounding these two clubs and what significance the It was my first attempt to read a non-fiction, factual, historical and more importantly a sports-based book. Being a fan of football and Real Madrid, I thought it best to start with this book recommended by a friend. And to say that this book is hugely revealing would be a good start. The book in its entirety does true justice to its title and is a highly successful attempt at analysing the history, the culture, the facts and busting the myths surrounding these two clubs and what significance they have had on football over the decades, with a very unbiased view. The chapters are told in a largely chronological order of events mainly starting from the civil war in the 1940s-1950s and ending in the happenings up to 2013. The narration though keeps drifting in and out between interviews, facts & author's analysis. Occasionally it does become difficult to keep up with the sheer number of personalities and place names that keep popping up in Spanish, but otherwise, it's a very easy read. Would definitely recommend to football fans in general, and for F.C. Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F. fans in particular, this book is a must-read to have a clear and educated view about these clubs they love and hate so much.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Coaker

    Barcelona good, Madrid bad; Barcelona independence; Madrid Franco buddies. Very much the opinion I held when I started to read this. Sid Lowe for me has always been the most compelling pundit on football weekly, and I love his writing in the Guardian. This book is a good read throughout. The strongest chapters cover the effect of the Civil war on football and challenge the preconceptions. Madrid was not Franco's base, and it suffered from nationalist attacks. Real had to stop playing matches, and Barcelona good, Madrid bad; Barcelona independence; Madrid Franco buddies. Very much the opinion I held when I started to read this. Sid Lowe for me has always been the most compelling pundit on football weekly, and I love his writing in the Guardian. This book is a good read throughout. The strongest chapters cover the effect of the Civil war on football and challenge the preconceptions. Madrid was not Franco's base, and it suffered from nationalist attacks. Real had to stop playing matches, and their (republican) president Guerra was imprisoned when the city finally fell to Franco. Barca were was less impacted by the fighting. There's some great stuff on Cruyff, how Di Stefano could have played for Barca; and Barca's current embrace of Catalan nationalism might be more political than idealistic. The author admits he had to leave a lot out. Maradona barely gets a mention and there's obviously another book in waiting on Laurie Cunningham. Not just a book for the football hipsters this is sociological and a good (ongoing) tale.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Mann

    This is a strong 3.5. I read this book because my husband is a dedicated Barca fan and I know little about soccer as a whole - much less the specific history of two clubs. Lowe’s storytelling though decades of Spanish history and countless characters (okay not countless, but I’m not going to try and count them any time soon) is not necessarily artful, but it is thoughtful and informative and fun. This book makes you want to pick a side within this great rivalry, but it is the mark of a great spo This is a strong 3.5. I read this book because my husband is a dedicated Barca fan and I know little about soccer as a whole - much less the specific history of two clubs. Lowe’s storytelling though decades of Spanish history and countless characters (okay not countless, but I’m not going to try and count them any time soon) is not necessarily artful, but it is thoughtful and informative and fun. This book makes you want to pick a side within this great rivalry, but it is the mark of a great sports writer (I think) that you don’t feel Lowe is pushing you to Madrid or Barca. You have to decide for yourself. You don’t need to know soccer to enjoy this. I couldn’t know less and this felt like a solid introduction to the sport. And yes, I am now an official and well-informed supporter of FC Barcelona.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael Elkon

    When I criticize American soccer fans for reflexively picking English teams as their adopted rooting interests and not considering Continental options - teams that have domestic players who can actually pass and move properly - I often mention that there is a great amount of quality, English-language writing about teams in other leagues. One does not need to speak Spanish to follow La Liga, German to following the Bundesliga, etc. The best example with respect to Spain is Sid Lowe. I devoured thi When I criticize American soccer fans for reflexively picking English teams as their adopted rooting interests and not considering Continental options - teams that have domestic players who can actually pass and move properly - I often mention that there is a great amount of quality, English-language writing about teams in other leagues. One does not need to speak Spanish to follow La Liga, German to following the Bundesliga, etc. The best example with respect to Spain is Sid Lowe. I devoured this book in a matter of days (having a pair of round-trip flights didn't hurt) and it was outstanding. Lowe is a step above the average journalist because he has a background as a historian, so "fear and Loathing" is peppered with analysis of documentary evidence, as well as interviews with witnesses. Lowe really tries to be even-handed - an absolute necessity when writing about a rivalry as charged as Barca-Real - and he shows that by the way he talks through the evidence. For instance, he dug up the file that Franco's government maintained on the Alfredo Di Stefano transfer - a core element of the Barca legend is that we believe that Real had assistance from the government to land the player who made Real the club that it is today - and showed that the government actually wanted neither team to have Di Stefano because they wanted fewer foreigners in La Liga. Barca ended up screwing up the transfer themselves because the Board didn't authorize the club's lawyer to make a deal with Millionarios (the club for which Di Stefano played) after they had already made a deal with River Plate (the club that owned his rights). In the end, the story is more about Barca's tradition of infighting than it is about assistance from Franco. Lowe also does a really good job of discussing how players who became central to the rivalry almost played for the other side. Di Stefano lived in Barcelona and played friendlies for the club, but Barca getting out-maneuvered by Real caused ADS to end up playing on the other side of the divide. This came in the aftermath of Barca pulling one over on Real to land Ladislao Kubala. Johan Cruyff, the man who made the modern Barca, was about to be sold from Ajax to Real and rebelled because he decided that he wanted to decide on his own club, so he picked Real's rival. The book explodes a lot of myths that I had to foment a disdain for Real Madrid. In addition to the Di Stefano story, Lowe does a good job of picking apart the notion that Real won because Franco liked them. The regime did get a lot out of identifying with Real winning the first five European Cups, but they would have associated with anything that made them look better and took Spain out of isolation. Barca was successful domestically when the regime was at its most repressive; Real's greatest success came outside of Spain, where Franco's influence would not be great. All that said, there's no doubt that while Real's ties to Franco might not have been as close as I would like to imagine, Barca was clearly a source of opposition to Spanish centralism. If Real were not the "regime Team," Barca were certainly one of the anti-regime teams and Franco's government kept a close eye on them for that reason. While some of my disdain for Real turns out to be based more on myth than fact, re-reading the chapter on Guardiola and Mourinho reminds me that one element of the ill feelings is grounded in reality. Jose was and is a shithead and Real betrayed their ideal as a club of gentlemen by panicking over Barca's rise and hiring a manager who wouldn't know grace or honor if they bit him on the cule.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Garvey

    A more accurate title for this book might well be "Why everything you know about El Classico is grossly oversimplified or plain wrong". It would have been pretty easy for Lowe to tell the narrative as it is so often portrayed in the media, but instead he tackles it head on. It is the sort of book that makes you annoyed everything in it isn't common knowledge. Lowe sets El Classico in the context of a changing Spain, from the civil war to the present day, though the wider societal background to ev A more accurate title for this book might well be "Why everything you know about El Classico is grossly oversimplified or plain wrong". It would have been pretty easy for Lowe to tell the narrative as it is so often portrayed in the media, but instead he tackles it head on. It is the sort of book that makes you annoyed everything in it isn't common knowledge. Lowe sets El Classico in the context of a changing Spain, from the civil war to the present day, though the wider societal background to events and their effect on football is given less and less prominence as the story wears on. It's never made fully clear as to whether or not Lowe simply thinks the audience will already be aware of enough context in recent times, or because he thinks the clubs have taken on a momentum of their own, unaffected nearly as much by events outside of the footballing world. The earlier chapters are where the work really shines; the author clearly has a passion for both Spanish history and football, and nearly none of the information in it is common knowledge (indeed, some "common knowledge" it turns out flies in the face of established fact, particularly anything to do with Madrid during the civil war), and rightfully, where most of the book is focused (though I listened to the audio book, so take my estimates of what constitutes what proportion with a grain of salt). The sourcing is comprehensive, the work a clear labour of love. My only major reservation of the book is the putting aside of the fans. While I'm not sure just how much fans wrote about their experiences, Lowe much prefers to use players or the media for his sources. Fans aren't given much notice beyond the noise they make at matches, their place instead seems to be taken by the media, Marca and the others being the way of determining the public sentiment at any point. Fans just seem to have been judged outside the scope of the book, but I can't help but feel there is still part of the story left to tell, particularly with the Real and Barcelona fan ownership models, where presidents don't simply appear out of nowhere. Another thing to note, though not a criticism, is that this is very much a history of El Classico through the lens of Spanish society (or perhaps even a popular introduction to 20th century Spanish history using El Classico as a case study), not a history through the lens of football. How the transfer of Di Stefano happened and it's impact on the rivalry is more important than any lasting contribution he made to the game itself. The wider footballing context of Barcelona and Madrid is given no more detail than necessary. Overall, in spite of the two caveats, I would highly, highly recommend this book to even the most casual of football fan, or even to a non football fan with an interest in popular history. However interesting you thought El Classico was, it is more so. The pop narrative really doesn't do it justice, and Lowe's telling of the tale is excellent.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Batool

    This book took me so long to Finish, and it should be considering the texture and the subject of the book, for me the title does not give it justice. The book is more than the rivalry between the most successful football clubs in our century, it's about where it all starts, historical non-fiction about Spain since the civil war until 2013 the year the book was published. I'd recommend this book to all football fans or history nerds, but in particular Cules and Madridistas to educate them about th This book took me so long to Finish, and it should be considering the texture and the subject of the book, for me the title does not give it justice. The book is more than the rivalry between the most successful football clubs in our century, it's about where it all starts, historical non-fiction about Spain since the civil war until 2013 the year the book was published. I'd recommend this book to all football fans or history nerds, but in particular Cules and Madridistas to educate them about the history of their clubs. good read!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    Don't start this book thinking that it is going to be a blow-by-blow account of the significant matches played between Barcelona and Real Madrid. If you do that, you will be disappointed. Lowe takes great pains, particularly early in the book, to makes connections between the history of the clubs and the history of Spain starting just prior to, and continuing after, the Spanish Civil War. Many people, myself included, have a cursory knowledge of how the clubs are tied to the opposing sides in the Don't start this book thinking that it is going to be a blow-by-blow account of the significant matches played between Barcelona and Real Madrid. If you do that, you will be disappointed. Lowe takes great pains, particularly early in the book, to makes connections between the history of the clubs and the history of Spain starting just prior to, and continuing after, the Spanish Civil War. Many people, myself included, have a cursory knowledge of how the clubs are tied to the opposing sides in the war. Real is generally seen as "Franco's team" and Barcelona as the "resistance." And while that is often true, the reality is more complicated. Many of Madrid's directors were communists prior to Franco taking power and switched sides because it was politically expedient. People who supported Barcelona were supportive of, and in favor to, Franco in their own rights. In his introduction, Lowe mentions that he had to edit his book heavily. He doesn't say what was cut out but my guess is that it was much of the early history. That section of the book seemed a little disjointed at times. Lowe's sources are impeccable, using the players themselves when available and if not, their teammates. He gets some remarkably honest answers to some of his questions. The players come off well, understanding the bigger picture of the rivalry but oftentimes saying, "we just played soccer." It seems that the rivalry was often between the club officials, fans, and media. As the book goes along, there is less politics and more soccer, and it takes us right through the 2012 season when it seemed as if there was a clasico being played every other week. At this point Lowe writes more about the matches but I felt like he could have added more detail to these sections. Lowe is pretty even handed throughout the book, presenting both sides honestly. If I had to guess, I'd say he's a Real fan, but that doesn't really come through in the writing. It's even-handed. If you are a fan of either team, I think you'd be interested in this book. Particularly if you came to fandom in the last dozen or so years. This book provides great information about the history of the rivalry, told by the players who lived it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    I am beyond impressed. The amount of history (of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona AND Spain as a country) that is packed into this book is amazing and wonderfully informative. Lowe intermixes his own prose and research with direct quotes and examples that highlight the most important factors in this huge rivalry. He speaks of both clubs in an incredibly unbiased manner, handing both clubs praise and criticism when deserved. I feel fans of either team, or anyone simply interested in the sport/La Liga, w I am beyond impressed. The amount of history (of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona AND Spain as a country) that is packed into this book is amazing and wonderfully informative. Lowe intermixes his own prose and research with direct quotes and examples that highlight the most important factors in this huge rivalry. He speaks of both clubs in an incredibly unbiased manner, handing both clubs praise and criticism when deserved. I feel fans of either team, or anyone simply interested in the sport/La Liga, will find this a great read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Vedanta Bagchi

    Brilliant book which tells you all you need to know about the history of the two clubs. Amazing insight provided and the author tries to portray the story of the two as impartial as possible and slowly explains how similar the two are and goes on to destroy many of the myths associated with them. Amazing amazing book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Amin Hazem

    An incredible book that takes you from the early days that formed the rivalry during the Spanish civil war up to 2013. Writing it in chronological order, Sid does a great job in exploring the history, widespread myths and false stories about both clubs. The book is very informative, especially with details of the civil war's events and the surroundings of controversial transfers that involved the two clubs (Kubala, Di Stéfano, Cruyff, Figo etc). Reading it was really enjoyable, some chapters that An incredible book that takes you from the early days that formed the rivalry during the Spanish civil war up to 2013. Writing it in chronological order, Sid does a great job in exploring the history, widespread myths and false stories about both clubs. The book is very informative, especially with details of the civil war's events and the surroundings of controversial transfers that involved the two clubs (Kubala, Di Stéfano, Cruyff, Figo etc). Reading it was really enjoyable, some chapters that included how the Spanish culture itself changed over the years and La Quinta's generation specifically was fascinating. There's too the not-so-popular exceptional players that I loved knowing their stories. I just feel sad that Sid finished his book a couple of months early that he didn't have the chance to write about La Decima. The book would've been even better with his writing about that long awaited trophy and how it was finally won, but then again, I would actually like him to wait to include Messi's entire Barca career and also Zidane's time in charge.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ian Peterson

    Sid Lowe has captured the spirit and history of El Clasico so well that it is hard to put this book down. I lean more towards Barcelona, but really have no firm horse in this race. What I love about this book is how it presents with enthusiasm the story of each teams rise and fall through various epochs and how they fit into greater Spanish history. Definitely geared towards the soccer/football fan, while Lowe tries to explain how important players like di Stefano, Kubala, Cruyff, Puskas, etc. a Sid Lowe has captured the spirit and history of El Clasico so well that it is hard to put this book down. I lean more towards Barcelona, but really have no firm horse in this race. What I love about this book is how it presents with enthusiasm the story of each teams rise and fall through various epochs and how they fit into greater Spanish history. Definitely geared towards the soccer/football fan, while Lowe tries to explain how important players like di Stefano, Kubala, Cruyff, Puskas, etc. are, they are explained only in the context of the sport. If you aren't familiar with the ins and outs of the game, it may just sound like a bunch of random adjectives strung together. As a fan of the game overall, this is one of the must-read books.

  14. 4 out of 5

    David

    Fantastic read, best football book I've read and one of the best history books as well Fantastic read, best football book I've read and one of the best history books as well

  15. 5 out of 5

    Harper Nicholl

    It was a very good book with a mix of sports and history of Spain. Over all a great book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kamyab

    Sensational, unbiased, comprehensive.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Zahn

    The best football writer around

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jarvo

    I've always enjoyed Sid Lowe's writing which was reason enough for me to read this book which otherwise might not have tempted me - they are two football clubs (sorry, global brands) who already get more than their fair share of attention. And they hate each other? So what. Most football clubs hate someone or other, or at least their fans do. And I thought I knew enough about the origins of their rivalry: Barcelona were Catalan and republican, Madrid were Franco's team. Which should make it easy I've always enjoyed Sid Lowe's writing which was reason enough for me to read this book which otherwise might not have tempted me - they are two football clubs (sorry, global brands) who already get more than their fair share of attention. And they hate each other? So what. Most football clubs hate someone or other, or at least their fans do. And I thought I knew enough about the origins of their rivalry: Barcelona were Catalan and republican, Madrid were Franco's team. Which should make it easy to sympathize with the former, but frankly Barcelona are so f*****g meretricious they have long lost any appeal to the informed neutral. They get all the publicity for paying UNESCO to sponser them whilst not even paying their debts to other clubs. And as for that slogan - 'more than a club' - does that mean that somehow other clubs mean less than they do? Madrid are had to like but basically 'a plague on both their houses' seems an appropriate response. But tempted by Sid Lowe (who has written excellently on the peerless Laurie Cunningham) I bought the book. By the time I finished the preface I knew this was the right decision. The author thought the book would have been improved by footnotes on every page, and even if he didn't get his way there is a great, and appropriate sense of seriousness pervading every page. Most of what I thought about the rivalry turns out to be wrong. The cities of Barcelona and Madrid were on the same side during the civil war, and both suffered as a consequence of its outcome. The regime that Franco established probably always found it difficult not to be suspicious about Barcelona but open bias probably only surfaced on two or three occasions (admittedly some of them quite significant, as in the signing of di Stefano who probably should have been a Barcelona player). It is not even clear that Franco supported Madrid. As one Madrid player comments 'An Englishman who thinks that Madrid were Franco's team probably thinks that all Spanish women dress as Flamenco dancers'. Politics aside the book is also a record of some truly fabulous footballers and matches, from the fifties onwards and has had me trawling Youtube for a couple of hours. A notable, but sad, footnote is the extent to which the duopoly that has dominated Spanish football for the last 20 years was more frequently challenged in the last century before the forces of global capital took such a strong hold on the game, with teams like Valencia, the Basque clubs, and teams from Seville joining Athletic Madrid in challenging for the title. Perhaps Lowe's next book should be a history of Spanish football without reference to Real or Barcelona?

  19. 4 out of 5

    Matthías Ólafsson

    Fantastic!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Thasmai Blr

    One of the best football books written, however a bit heavy on the political aspects especially in the early chapters. Wish to see a revised version now with Barcelonas capitulation from 'mes en que club' status One of the best football books written, however a bit heavy on the political aspects especially in the early chapters. Wish to see a revised version now with Barcelonas capitulation from 'mes en que club' status

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    I remember, as an adolescent hockey fan bourgeoning into rational thought and critical consciousness, wondering what exactly the announcers were talking about when they said two teams had a fierce rivalry. Usually, the pivotal games of the rivalry were from before I was born, or at least before I started meaningfully watching and remembering the sport. And, thought I, they were certainly from before any of the players or coaches played for the team. How much do the players on the ice feel the ri I remember, as an adolescent hockey fan bourgeoning into rational thought and critical consciousness, wondering what exactly the announcers were talking about when they said two teams had a fierce rivalry. Usually, the pivotal games of the rivalry were from before I was born, or at least before I started meaningfully watching and remembering the sport. And, thought I, they were certainly from before any of the players or coaches played for the team. How much do the players on the ice feel the rivalry? Does it reside only in the fans’ feelings? Do the fans convey it via the atmosphere created by their cheers? (Back then I didn’t know that home team advantage was a statistically real thing, so I was more skeptical of that possibility than I am now.) “Could it be an institution grudge that in some sense supervenes on the players, staff and fans, carried forward by a combination of all three”? I wonder now. Then I spent ten years watching tennis, and rivalries become much simpler—Federer and Nadal, Nadal and Djokovic, Federer and Murray have contested title after title and so there is an extra sparkle on the court and in their eye when they play. Falling into a soccer obsession over the last year has re-awoken the question “What / who feels a rivalry in sports?” and the related more general question, “What / who is a sports team?” I don’t know if Fear and Loathing in Laliga concretely answers either of these questions, but it certainly dances all over them as the book details the century-long rivalry between Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona. The book is a rollercoaster, half because of the exhilarating raw material of the rivalry with its underlying politics and legendary heroes, and half because of Lowe’s ferociously clear and complex writing style. Almost from the start, the book sidelines football to give a modestly in-depth account of the Spanish Civil War. Lowe hits the topic with the ability to powerfully argue, robustly support, and then insightfully contradict hypothesis after hypothesis. He’ll detail the dominance of Real and Barca over Spanish football—the quantity of big matches they’ve played against each other and the intense passion that has fueled the fans and players during them—only to pivot and quote Real Madrid’s stars through the years who saw Atletico Madrid, not Barcelona, as their chief rival, and who in fact were not particularly aware of Barcelona if they weren’t a fellow contender for the Spanish title. He’ll highlight crucial reasons that Real’s success depended on decisions made by Franco’s dictatorship, only to undermine and complicate the “Madrid are Franco’s team” thesis by showing how the city of Madrid, and even Real Madrid’s president, fought the most bitterly of all of Spain against Franco during the civil war. The argument and the counter-argument don’t exactly contradict one another—I was left with the impression that making claims about history, even the history of two sports teams’ rivalry, is complicated, rather than the sense that making claims about history is impossible—but the counter-argument launches the mind in a whole new direction. Lower presents them both with such compelling force that the effect on my brain as a reader was somewhat like being led firmly in one direction only to be then flung in another. This, I think, is what makes the book so much more than an endless parade of majestic so-and-so’s triumphing over nearly as majestic such-and-such’s. Fear and Loathing in Laliga’s only flaws are what is missing, being published in 2012 and focusing specifically on Real Madrid and Barcelona. The book gave me a beautiful, nuanced picture of the ebbs and flows of the two great teams and their rivalry—while it can seem like, since Madrid have been the winningest team in the history of the European Cup/Champions League, that they’ve always been winning it regularly, there was a 23 year drough from the 70s to the 90s (and it was only Barcelona’s dominance in the early 90s that brought their accomplishments to the same tier as Madrid’s). My only complaint is that I want to hear about what’s happened since the book was published, like Barcelona’s second treble and Real’s three consecutive Champions League victories (both historic accomplishments in their own rights). Or how Lowe feels about Atletico Madrid’s ascent and success, considering he predicted Real Madrid and Barcelona’s grasp of Spanish football only getting tighter and tighter. And the other lack is the rest of Spanish football. I want to hear Lowe describe the big moments, the highs and lows, of Sevilla, Valencia, Betis, Coruna… etc. with the same passion and insight that he gives Real and Barca. The book left me wanting it all.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cullen

    I finished this book wanting to know more. Not only about the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry or La Liga, but about 20th century Spain in general. Lowe did a good job weaving the sporting history within the context of greater history during the first few chapters of the book. Latter chapters are very sport heavy, but I believe the earlier chapters develop a strong enough narrative to keep even the more staunch soccer/football detractor intrigued.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Maxwell Schneider

    I picked this up because of the solid rating here and because I was interested in this rivalry. I was especially interested in how the history of Madrid/Barca is connected to the political and sociological history of Spain. Now that I've finished it, this book definitely satisfied in meeting both of those objectives. Fear and Loathing is as comprehensive a history as you can get in over 400 pages. This is a long and heated rivalry and spans over 100 years. Lowe does an excellent job of briskly m I picked this up because of the solid rating here and because I was interested in this rivalry. I was especially interested in how the history of Madrid/Barca is connected to the political and sociological history of Spain. Now that I've finished it, this book definitely satisfied in meeting both of those objectives. Fear and Loathing is as comprehensive a history as you can get in over 400 pages. This is a long and heated rivalry and spans over 100 years. Lowe does an excellent job of briskly making it through in the pages allotted him; nevertheless, it is thoroughly researched and explained in both a witty and narrative style. I also think Lowe is incredibly fair to both sides of the story, which isn't easy given the heaviness of the rivalry. My two beefs with the book are that not enough attention was paid to the societal connections the rivalry had in the latter decades of the 20th century (and early 21st century) and how he never mentions the brief stint Maradona had at Barca. Nevertheless, it gives me a chance to go out and find other books that deal with those topics more explicitly. All in all, I'd recommend this to anyone with a basic understanding of La Liga, 20th-century Spanish history, and this rivalry but desires to know more about all.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Aaron King

    Love for la liga Ok, I'll be the first to admit that I'm a recent convert to the religion of Soccer. I'll also Admit that I am obsessed. Especially with the history and the politics surrounding the game. Sid Lowe's analysis and overview of the history of both of these giants on and off the pitch is incredible. I found myself taking notes and seeking out clips and photo's to help visualize these moments he describes. He seeks to dispel conspiracy theories with first hand accounts from some matches Love for la liga Ok, I'll be the first to admit that I'm a recent convert to the religion of Soccer. I'll also Admit that I am obsessed. Especially with the history and the politics surrounding the game. Sid Lowe's analysis and overview of the history of both of these giants on and off the pitch is incredible. I found myself taking notes and seeking out clips and photo's to help visualize these moments he describes. He seeks to dispel conspiracy theories with first hand accounts from some matches and others are left up to the reader. I began this book with a set ideas about real Madrid. I've learned a lot about some of their players that I never would of heard because I always thought of them as Franco's team and I didn't pay attention. The chapter on cruyff and the introduction of total football in Catalonia only strengthened my love for barca. Their emphasis on youth development and dedication to a certain style is what defines them at the core. Kudos to Sid Lowe to remind us of both teams glories and failures in their long histories in Spain and Catalonia. A must read for fans of both real Madrid and fc Barcelona .

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brad

    If you are a Barcelona or Real Madrid fan, this is a must read. Sid Lowe provides history and depth to the greatest modern day rivalry. As fierce as some may think their favorite rivalry is, nothing could ever compare, and whichever side you choose (or don’t), you will feel the power, hatred, and love. Because I read this I view the present differently, with games, players, coaches, and cultures coming alive in a very different way framed by the clubs’ history. You may know the history and cultu If you are a Barcelona or Real Madrid fan, this is a must read. Sid Lowe provides history and depth to the greatest modern day rivalry. As fierce as some may think their favorite rivalry is, nothing could ever compare, and whichever side you choose (or don’t), you will feel the power, hatred, and love. Because I read this I view the present differently, with games, players, coaches, and cultures coming alive in a very different way framed by the clubs’ history. You may know the history and culture that shaped the rivalry, but after reading this book you will realize you did not. And unfortunately, perhaps that you never can.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dave Carr

    A thorough and comprehensive guide to the Barca v Madrid rivalry. Particularly enjoyed the depth given to the chapter on the Spanish Civil War and the length Sid Lowe went to argue and provide against many of the common beliefs regarding 'Franco's Madrid'. Big fan of Cruyff also so will lap up anything on him both as a player and the Dream Team under his management. Not a short read but clearly a well researched and carefully presented book. 5/5. A thorough and comprehensive guide to the Barca v Madrid rivalry. Particularly enjoyed the depth given to the chapter on the Spanish Civil War and the length Sid Lowe went to argue and provide against many of the common beliefs regarding 'Franco's Madrid'. Big fan of Cruyff also so will lap up anything on him both as a player and the Dream Team under his management. Not a short read but clearly a well researched and carefully presented book. 5/5.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Frank

    Sis Lowe is probably my favorite soccer journalist/columnist and this book just reaffirms that. Honestly, the first 1/2 of the book is much better than the second. As I read on, I almost dreaded heading to read about the soccer aspects because I wanted more about the Spanish war and politics. The cover is obviously misleading and purely marketing. It's a cool book if you're in to soccer, but also serves as a good like intro into 20th century Spanish political history. Sis Lowe is probably my favorite soccer journalist/columnist and this book just reaffirms that. Honestly, the first 1/2 of the book is much better than the second. As I read on, I almost dreaded heading to read about the soccer aspects because I wanted more about the Spanish war and politics. The cover is obviously misleading and purely marketing. It's a cool book if you're in to soccer, but also serves as a good like intro into 20th century Spanish political history.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Fisher

    Fantastic history of the rivalry between Spain's two biggest clubs. Lowe leaves no stone unturned when it comes to research, with an impressive list of interviewees and bibliography. It would be good to see an updated version in a few years time. Fantastic history of the rivalry between Spain's two biggest clubs. Lowe leaves no stone unturned when it comes to research, with an impressive list of interviewees and bibliography. It would be good to see an updated version in a few years time.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Burgoo

    I thought I knew about rivalries. It turns out I knew nothing. Army officers appearing in locker rooms, animal parts thrown onto the pitch, every kind of chicanery and shenanigans known to man. All played against very real social and political differences. Brilliant and fun.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mario

    A lot of research, good anecdotes and I learned a bit about both clubs during the Civil War/Franco era which I didn't know about before because I'd always assumed 'Real are Franco's team, Barcelona were the enemy'. 3.5 stars A lot of research, good anecdotes and I learned a bit about both clubs during the Civil War/Franco era which I didn't know about before because I'd always assumed 'Real are Franco's team, Barcelona were the enemy'. 3.5 stars

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