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4.6 out of 5 stars
Playing the Enemy (unabridged audiobook)
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25 of 25 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
VINE VOICEon 1 February 2010
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. In prison Mandela taught himself Africaans and deliberately took an interest in rugby as a way of winning over some of his guards, many of who became close friends during his captivity and after his release.

Much detail is included on the Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar, who eventually fell completely under Mandela's spell and captained The Rainbow Nation to rugby glory. In the book Pienaar provides the most striking example of how Mandela could inspire fervent changes in attitudes even in people you'd not expect to be open to his influence. Pienaar was an unlikely convert to Mandela's ideals and as a young man had no political view on apartheid at all - in fact was proudest, as an Africaner, of never losing a school rugby match to "an English school". Mandela handing the Rugby World Cup to Pienaar, both wearing the springbok number 6 shirt, became the ultimate symbol of the real potential for a truely united South Africa against the odds, this book describes how that image became possible.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 15 November 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). Also the artificial 1979 South African Barbarians tour of the UK (made up of a third white, third black and third coloured players) gave the insular world of rugby an excuse to readmit the Boks to the international calendar.

But it's a good read nonetheless and with background knowledge can be appreciated fully.
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3 of 3 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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 25 August 2009
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. In prison Mandela taught himself Africaans and deliberately took an interest in rugby as a way of winning over some of his guards, many of who became close friends during his captivity and after his release.

Much detail is included on the Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar, who eventually fell completely under Mandela's spell and captained The Rainbow Nation to rugby glory. In the book Pienaar provides the most striking example of how Mandela could inspire fervent changes in attitudes even in people you'd not expect to be open to his influence. Pienaar was an unlikely convert to Mandela's ideals and as a young man had no political view on apartheid at all - in fact was proudest, as an Africaner, of never losing a school rugby match to "an English school". Mandela handing the Rugby World Cup to Pienaar, both wearing the springbok number 6 shirt, became the ultimate symbol of the real potential for a truely united South Africa against the odds, this book describes how that image became possible.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This story was very moving and made me feel even more respectful of Nelson Mandela and his ability to engage with people and bring the nation of South Africa together after the transition from apartheid. Well worth reading if you have any heart for human dignity whatever colour or creed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
It begins with a good summary of the history and fall of apartheid in South Africa and the election of Nelson Mandela as President - a triumph of his conviction that the new constitution and SA was for all races. It is sometimes known as the 'Mandela Miracle'.
Th Apartheid Museum in Soweto makes a lot of the first SA Rugby world cup and they play continuously the TV clip and commentary of Nelson Mandela walking onto the pitch at the final in the Sprinbok's shirt. It is legend and reality, the symbolism is obvious.
Like the film, this book tells this true story well, it is not emotional, one sided or sentimental. It is a tribute to Mandela who saw an opportunity and went for it (and he genuinely enjoyed the sport) and to Francois Pienaar who embraced it and the new political situation.
A very good read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A simply brilliant read - John Carlin is excellent and provides a unique look behind the scenes of South Africa's transformation...I can't recommend it highly enough. If you like sport then this book is a must.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 May 2013
Reading Mandela's 'Long Walk to Freedom' may be good for you but perhaps too long a walk, too many pages? If so, at least try this, a very appetising introduction to the biography of surely one of the most remarkable men ever to walk the earth. Carlin assembles the realities of apartheid, Mandela's cruel imprisonment and how he used his superior intelligence to outwit and subsequenty overcome the cruelties of his captors, followed by the hazardous deconstruction of the Boer regime in a way analogous to a phase of play in the rugby final that forms the setting for the book. How, rugby, for long associated with brutish white arrogance, was turned to advantage by Mandela and how the Broederbond embraced humanity is vividly depicted.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I had the great good fortune to be asked to narrate this extraordinary story. The reason I am taking the unusual step of reviewing one of my own audiobooks, is not to pat myself on the back, but to invite you to listen to this most amazing account in its true context. It is infinitely more than the film 'Invictus', which left out two thirds of the book, and though entertaining, is just a two dimensional Hollywood tale about a famous rugby match. Were it not true, it would not be credible, the story of how Nelson Mandela turned the country away from civil war, and through this same rugby match finally changed the course of a nation. But that was the culmination of dramatic, but little known, events that are the stuff of history. The film should have been Clint Eastwood's 'Ghandi', but the gift he was given was wasted. I can only hope I have done it justice, for it is one of the great stories of 20th century Africa.
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