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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 24 May 2001
At first the 580 or so pages on a rather forgotten subject could dissuade most people from reading it. This was almost the effect it had on me when I first saw the book many years ago but after the first chapter I realised that I was reading a unique and very special book. Pakenham manages to cover every aspect of the conflict without ever getting bogged down in tedium and maintains a lively pace throughout. He describes clearly the political and economic causes of the war from every perspective and the battle scenes are so minutely recounted that the reader feels he is actually present. But Pakenham, more importantly, deals with the unpalatable truths: that the British Government allowed itself to be dragged into a conflict by war mongers like Milne and Rhodes who were motivated by greed and financial gain, the concentration camps which were designed to round up the Afrikaaner families that supposedly supported the Boers were so badly organised that they caused thousands of deaths more through incompetence than by design, how the blacks were actively mistreated by the boers and totally ignored by the British during the conflict and after it in any future political settlement, how the British Army lived up to the old adage of "lions lead by donkeys". Pakenham is also willing to explode a few old myths: that Redvers Buller was solely to blame for the inital failures of the British Army during the beginning of the conflict, that Lord Roberts was the saviour afterwards and that the Boers were expert marksmen. In the end the book succeeds because the author tells the story from a deeply moving human perspective; it reads like a wonderful novel without ever losing sight that it is an historical document. My only criticism is that it could do with more photographs and illustrations (this was, after all, one of the first ever conflicts to be extensively filmed and photographed).
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on 14 April 1999
Packenhams' account of the Boer war is widely regarded as the definitve version. For a work of military history this is a truly exceptional book as it grips the reader like a thriller yet is as full of references as any academic text; betraying the prodigious research conducted by Packenham. Readers unfamiliar with South African geography may wish for a few more maps, and some of the military terminoligy could be better explained, but these are minor points. The Boer war may have been 100 years ago, but the lessons so painfully learnt by both sides are still relevant. They can be seen not just in South Africa, but in modern conflicts - from the blacked-out shiny badges of the British army embarking for the Falklands to the inconspicous uniform of General Powell in the Gulf war. (both to prevent the attention of snipers). Packenham uses war documents, personal letters and the recollections of survivors in his narrative to bring the war to life. If you thought history was boring, this is the book that will change your mind.
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on 28 June 2000
Thomas Pakenham succeeds in bringing to life the causes and course of the Boer War through a prodigious mixture of spotless, in-depth research, and a writing style that compels the reader to turn the page and discover the latest twist in a conflict that shook the British Army to its foundations. The Boer War has, in Britain, been overshadowed by the two World Wars which followed, but this book will prove of particular interest to students of the Great War, since many of the leading soldiers of that war took part, with varying degrees of success, in the Boer War -soldiers such as French, Haig, Rawlinson and Hamilton. Their experiences in the Boer War are illuminating in the light of their later actions in France and beyond a generation later. A must-read for any student of the late Victorian British army, but also a wonderfully interesting book that appeals to the discerning reader.
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on 19 June 2005
I am a collector of British military medals with a particular interest in the Boer War and the First World War. As a result I have read many books on about these wars and I can honestly say that this book is the best one I have ever read concerning the Boer War of 1899 to 1902.
The author takes an in depth look at the causes of the war in both a detailed and refreshingly modern analytic way not found in previous works. He then moves on and examines the various phases of the war from the large set piece battles to the guerrila war that followed as well as the aftermath.
However, what is really pleasing about this book is the way it is written being more akin to a novel than a history textbook. The result is a highly readble text with very little dry bits that often tire the reader when he or she embarks on reading a book as large as this one.
If you want one good general history of the Boer War then this is the one to buy. It will suit those who wish to learn more about the politics of the war as well as those who have a keen interest in the military tatics used.
In short this really is a first class book which shlould be read by anyone with an interest in this conflict.
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on 5 July 2006
This was the first book I had ever read on the Boer War and what an introduction! Pakenham not only wields a gripping narrative account of the battles, political intrigue and the affairs of the individuals involved, which has you eagerly turning every page, but also expertly analyses many aspects of the war. It is an especially good book for analysing the causes of the war, the performance of the various British generals (especially in revising attitudes towards Buller) and the factors that made British victory so difficult. In fact the latter means that the book is not only a good account of the Boer War but also essential reading for anyone interested in 20th century military history as it helps explain some of the bloodshed of World War One. The focus is on the British perspective but I would not say it is unfavourable or greatly unfair towards the Boers as a good account of the Concentration camps is given for example. As an introduction to topic or just a book for someone with a general interest in military history it is a fantastic read.
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on 8 January 2008
The first thing that should strike the reader is that the work is over 25 years old yet still has a freshness about its approach to the conflict. This and the comprehensive coverage of events leading up to the war, as well as the war itself, suggests it will be many more years before it ceases to be the definitive history of the Boer War. One particularly interesting feature is Pakenham's defence of General Buller who has been vilified for his incompetence in just about every other book on the subject. Not everyone will agree with Pakenham's defence of Buller but it's undoubtedly well argued, based as it is on documents and other material discovered at Buller's family home in Devon. A must read for anyone with an interest in the Boer War.
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on 11 September 2012
An excellent, well referenced, well balanced and superbly written historical appraisel of the Boer War giving a good insight to both sides of the conflict and from both the political and military aspects too. The Authors engaging style is extemely readable which made the book very difficult for me to put down. I already had a copy of the Authors origonal book "The Boer War" but this had very little supportive photographic imagary. The Illustrated version adds an even greater human dimension to the be able to see not merely posed photo-studies of the Generals and the politicians, but also the ordinary soldiers in field conditions with their equipment,...... the hardships they suffered but also the humour and the common humanity shines through in these early action photographs. Quite spell-binding.... particular shots of "a massed foot inspection".....British troops lying on their backsides waving their feet in the air, and "marching across the Veldt"...a real action shot of British soldiers "yomping" across flat scrubland in line abreast formation, will remain in my minds eye for a long time. You can tell that I really did like this book!
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on 5 March 2012
'A consummate masterpiece' is the subtitle on the edition I read. 'Blimey' I mused 'this must be a seriously good book'. And indeed it was. This is one of those rare books that are very strong on the background, the politics, as well as on tactis AND strategy. Sure, the word 'masterpiece' is subject to inflation, but honestly his book deserves that title. Pakenham explains the whole run-up to the war extremely well, seems to have done exhaustive research AND manages to present it in a condensed, pleasant-to-read manner. He manages to extract the pith like few others can, noting for example how it was not Boer tactical proficiency or markmanship that gave the British so much trouble but rather technology: the Boer Mauser rifles combined with the South African landscape simply gave the defenders such an advantage that old-school tactics didn't work anymore. The Boer War experieence should have forwarned all generals. As WWI was to show, they did not heed the lesson.
As a bonus, the reader also gets a very good introduction to South African history and culture, as well as some schooling into funny contemporary technologies such as the extensive use of heliographs for communication (wonder why these were not used in previous wars....) as well as searchlights (to write messages on clouds!). Only minor negative point is that Pakenham assumes a level of knowledge about late 1800s British politics that seems unrealistic, at least for the early 21st century reader. But that is a detail. Again, this is a seriously good book.
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on 13 July 2016
This was an area of history that I had never considered and shamefully new little about. The author has written an excellent and very readable account which was thoroughly enjoyed. In fact it became something of a page turner even though the end was already known.
Mr Pakenham has produced a balanced account and given both sides of the war a very even handed treatment.
I suppose we need to ask why we and more importantly our Generals should adopt the same approach as Wellington even though military technology had so improved and the consequences of this were already known after the Crimean War, the American Civil War, the war of 1864 between Denmark and Prussia, and the Franco-Prussian War, and yet the same tactics which were to lead so many losses in South Africa were used again. And, of course they would be used again at greater cost of lives post 1914. Perhaps it is to no little surprise that some of the Generals who were in position in 1914 had also fought a difficult and bloody campaign in South Africa.
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on 12 December 2011
After holidaying (wonderful!) in South Africa last year, I just had to read some of the history and was intrigued by the Boer War. This book would be impossible to beat on the subject. It's both a page turner and extremely educational. The thing about good books like this is that after reading them you can clearly see the parallels today in various parts of the world. Britain doesn't come out of the book looking too good at all and I found myself sympathising with the Boers. This is a great book and deserves to be widely read.
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