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Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation [Hardcover]

John Carlin
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Sep 2008
24 June 1995. Ellis Park in Johannesburg. The Springboks versus The All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup final. Nelson Mandela steps onto the pitch wearing a Springboks shirt and, before a global audience of millions, a new country is born. This book tells the incredible story of Mandela's journey to that moment.As the day of the final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup dawned, and the Springboks faced New Zealand's all-conquering All Blacks, more was at stake than a sporting trophy. When Nelson Mandela appeared wearing a Springboks jersey and led the all-white Afrikaner-dominated team in singing South Africa's new national anthem, he conquered white South Africa."Playing the Enemy" tells the extraordinary human story of how that moment became possible. It shows how a sport, once the preserve of South Africa's Afrikaans-speaking minority, came to unify the new rainbow nation, and tells of how - just occasionally - something as simple as a game really can help people to rise above themselves and see beyond their differences.Readers of "The Long Walk to Freedom" by Nelson Mandela, "Fever Pitch" by Nick Hornby, "The Damned United" by David Peace; and rugby fans are those who read.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (1 Sep 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843548593
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843548591
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 479,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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A moving and exciting account of how South Africa avoided a bloodbath. This extremely well written book ought to be essential reading not only for peacemakers but also for those who long to see human values demonstrated through political action. -- Terry Waite, CBE

A tight, gripping and powerful book that shines a light on a moment of hope, not just for one nation but the whole world. -- Daily Express

I was there for the World Cup. But until I read this book, I was not aware just how consciously and diligently Mandela set about wooing the Afrikaner. It is a fascinating story. -- Justin Cartwright, Sunday Telegraph


I was there for the World Cup. But until I read this book, I was not aware just how consciously and diligently Mandela set about wooing the Afrikaner. It is a fascinating story.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Playing the Enemy is a very timely book. In these days when nations are often more divided than before, Nelson Mandela's instinct to show respect, friendliness, and common purpose with those who saw him as an enemy is a beacon that lights up the potential for all people to come together to accomplish more. John Carlin has used the Rugby World Cup imaginatively to illustrate the essence of President Mandela's approach. Mr. Carlin is a wonderful story teller, and you'll feel chills as you read the many great moments he brilliantly captures in Playing the Enemy.

Leaders have always used foreign enemies to bring their purpose together. Who realized that this could be done at the level of sport rather than through war as a way to unify a country where people were deeply suspicious (even paranoid) about one another?

I was glad to see that Mr. Carlin provided lots of background about how someone imprisoned for decades became the leader of a reconstituted nation in South Africa and went on to accomplish things that not even the most optimistic would have expected. President Mandela's story is one for the ages, and this way of telling the story makes it easier to understand for those who never saw South Africa during the Apartheid regime.

Although I had long studied and worked to help change the government in South Africa from the inside and outside, the political impact of the international boycott of the South African rugby team had been lost to me. I hope those who would like to encourage governments to behave more appropriately towards their people will remember this example.

Bravo, Mr. Carlin!
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Invictus (aka Playing the Enemy) 1 Feb 2010
By jcmacc VINE VOICE
Although the book uses the famous 1995 Rugby World Cup Final as a frame to hang the narrative around, it really isn't about the rugby per se. What the real meat of the book concerns is how Mandela made himself a focal point around which apartheid could be pulled down while avoiding the carnage of a civil war. The tense backroom deals and influencing required with the apartheid regime and indeed his own party and friends, are brilliantly described.

The book is excellent in describing the factions and tensions involved at the beginning of the end of apartheid. Transitioning apartheid to democracy could have gone very violently wrong not because of "black vs white" issues as you may simplistically think, but due to the fact there were miriad competing factions on all sides that led to huge danger of mass violence. Mandela's biggest problem at times was convincing the ANC to buy into symbols like the rugby springbok as a way of winning people over as he realised outright rejection of all aspects of the "white culture" would push more of the heavily armed white minority over to the side of the hardliners who actively wanted conflict. When you think how the black majority suffered under the cruelty of apartheid, taking the ANC with him on a conciliatory route was an incredible feat of diplomacy and leadership.

Mandela's genius was to understand the differences between white South Africans in terms of modernisers vs conservatives vs white supremacists, between forward thinking politicians and hardliners in the security services and especially, underlying all, between the English and Afrikaan speakers. He never made the mistake of alienating people by false stereotyping.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is an interesting book. But it's also a rather simplistic book. It serves up too many lazy stereotypes. It seems that Carlin has yet to meet an Afrikaner who doesn't warrant the prefix "brutish". Nor has he yet met an Afrikaner who doesn't sport an enormous beer belly and wear a safari suit. They all drink brandy and coke and munch on boerewors. The typical Afrikaner childhood, we are told, involves children "whacking each other over the head with chairs".

The treatment of the ANC, on the other hand, is entirely uncritical. Carlin's portrayal of the IFP-ANC turf wars in the early 1990s is especially one-sided. There is no attempt to point out the dark side of the ANC, the vicious internal power struggles or the outright corruption. We don't learn that over a million whites have fled the country since the end of Apartheid. Instead, we are merely served up Saint Nelson who beguiles everyone with his almost mystical powers.

Now, it probably suited Carlin's Hollywood ambitions to make the tale saccharine and simple, with Baddies and Goodies clearly marked out for you, but that doesn't make it any less irritating. This book is well worth reading but do so with a healthy dose of scepticism.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost a great book 15 Nov 2009
Carlin's book is wonderful from a political point of view. If you are a rugby fan (and you read it probably because you are) then be warned - the book is more about the transition to democracy than the World Cup tournament and the historical role of the Springboks.

Unfortunately Carlin has made the facts suit his story instead of the other way round. A chapter about the Boks' role in White Society (and the reverse for Blacks) would have lent his story more weight instead of relying on prior knowledge on the part of the reader. It doesn't fit his story but from 1970-76 the Boks played 22 internationals (plus the 1977 Northern Transvaal celebration game) and from 1980-86 they again played 25 games (plus the 1989 controversial World XV games to mark the SARUs centenary for which all were paid but that's another story!). True the Boks could only tour a few times (France 1974, South America 1980 and New Zealand 1981 with a stopover in New York) but reading Carlin you would think that the Boks didn't play any rugby at all after 1981. Yes some of those internationals were against anyone that would risk condemnation and visit the Republic (such as various South American teams, weakened England sides and of course the Kiwi Cavaliers). None of this rates a mention, not even the aborted 1986 Lions Tour. Only the 1985 All Blacks do - but that tour did go ahead, in a way.

The story would have been more powerful if Carlin had showed how the Boks became increasingly isolated, not just tell us it happened. Luckily the rugby side of things has been told elsewhere, by Edward Griffiths (covering the period 1992-95) and Chris Greyvenstein (just ignore his dated excuses for apartheid).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by Jane
5.0 out of 5 stars Thee most powerful passionate story of how a whole once divided nation...
This book !!! Is a book of books. I've never read a book that was so intense and passionate in descriptions as regards the emotions that not only a rugby team but the total... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Countvauntrap
5.0 out of 5 stars What a read - what a man!
A well written and researched book. Inspirational what one man can achieve from such adversity. I could not put it down.
Published 5 months ago by The Codester
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic read
I loved this book! I'd jusy finished reading Nelson Mandela's autobiography and was looking for something along the same lines. This book was just what I was looking for. Read more
Published 6 months ago by SusieJ
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read
Having stayed in SAfrica for nearly 50years(living in UK now),could enjoy this book better,knowing all the people,places and knowledge of the areas mention.
Published 7 months ago by Barry Metson
5.0 out of 5 stars Playing the enemy
First class book a lot more detail than the film ,once you start reading this book it then becomes very difficult to put down as you want to find out what happens next in Mandela... Read more
Published 7 months ago by colin bevan
5.0 out of 5 stars The book is a more rounded and much deeper look at RSA and Mandela...
I'm a big fan of Clint Eastwood as a director. But Invictus is not his best work by a mile.

The book is a more rounded and much deeper look at RSA and Mandela than the... Read more
Published 8 months ago by C. I. Wright
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent take on the end of Apartheid
This is a really excellent read, putting a new slant on the end of Apartheid. The subject has been much written about. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Simon Stevens
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
Having heard about the movie, I thought this is one book I have to read. I couldn't put the book down. Read it within two days.
Published 10 months ago by Damian Neary
5.0 out of 5 stars The most amazing book
Much better than the movie. Very powerfully written, a must for any rugby fan who is interested in the history of SA.
Published 12 months ago by J. Hughes
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