Top positive review
63 people found this helpful
One of the greatest history books ever written?
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story from a deeply moving human perspective; it reads like a wonderful novel without ever losing sight that it is an historical document.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).