Mandela by Martin Meredith is an excellent biography of arguably the most revered statesman of the last half of the twentieth century. A global icon of the resistance towards the apartheid regime, Mandela was able to a large extent hold together the Rainbow Nation after the transition to democracy.
It is a well-written, detailed and informative book which puts Nelson Mandela's life in the wider context of the history of South Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries. While it must be noted that the author is broadly sympathetic towards Mandela (why wouldn't he be?), he is not afraid to be critical of some of his policies, actions or behaviours.
Whilst there are many Nelson Mandela books out there, it's hard to see how many could beat this. Meredith's style is easily understandable- though not the most lively. Still, the book remains engaging throughout due to it's fascinating content as it covers all areas- Mr Mandela's childhood, rise in politics, imprisonment, release, negotations and term as presedent. The book highlights the horror of Apartheid, and it's destructive effects on both sides. The author remains objective, often critical of Mandela and the ANC, thus giving greater incite into the whole chapter of South African history. As previously stated, the book would have benefited from more personality in it's style, but don't let this put you off finding out alll the facts of such an important struggle and great man.
This is a pretty good biography, the latest one in a series of politicians I've been reading lately ranging from Stalin to Mrs Thatcher. It's certainly worth reading, and does cover a lot of ground in a very engaging manner. My reason for not giving it four stars or more is that it doesn't give enough information about the reasons why the South African government kept introducing the extremist rules and regulations in the decades leading up to the late 1950s in particular. These were the very important pre-aparteid and early-aparteid years which saw the most jaw-dropping repression, exclusion and segregationism come into being, but at no stage did the author convey to me what the SA government was responding to. It seems, as I approached page 100, that I was reading one severe law being passed after another as if each draconian rule was plucked out of thin air by an extremist band of largely nameless politicians. I was hoping to find out what the politicians were responding to, what led to the mindset of those in charge for decade after decade, and how such harsh laws and social restrictions were ever justified through their parliamentary process.
Also, I would like to have had some statements expanded upon. For example, in the late 1940s when Mandela was in his formative ANC years I read that the sizeable Indian community had a similar disdain for the African community as the whites did, and there were times when many communities, be they Afrikaner, Black, Coloured and so on, had to be kept seperate. How come? And then it became law in the 1950s to keep them apart. I assume there must be some kind of history of conflict or whatever there, but it's not really expanded upon. So there was a lot of racist legislation spewing forth from the SA parliament in the first 100 pages, there was a lot of tensions between all parts of the society to deal with, but very little as to the initial causes, which frustrated me. It was a case of hearing of the laws arriving for page after page as responses but very little (if anything) of the causes.
The terrorist atrocities of the ANC in the late 70s and much of the 80s are hardly mentioned. I was dumbstruck and thoroughly cross at what was left out. Did Mandela know what his own organisation was up to? Of course he did, after all as the 80s went by he was the one the South African government still treated as its leader, the international community was already deifying him as such, and he was a very, very long way from being a 'forgotten' prisoner. He refused to call an end to the violence in the 70s and repeatedly in the 80s but the author here avoids pointing out the consequences of his refusal. Even Mandela himself acknowledges the death certificates he effectively signed by doing so. But here, nothing happened which is worthy of more than a scant line of reference if it even gets mentioned at all. Take a look on the internet, the pictures are horrific.
Another area which is not explored is the personal wealth and where it all came from (besides the autobiography sales). When he and Winnie divorced in 94 she demanded about 6million dollars, which at the time was around half of his fortune. That figure doesn't get a mention, and the divorce itself is quickly dealt with. Most of the ANC corruption, which is legendary and a standard part of any book on South Africa and its leaders, does get raised near the end but more 'in passing' than in detail. Rather like Winnie Mandella's countless misdemeanours, which are worthy of a book of their own!
But other than that, it's a book worth reading which is written in a very fluent, engaging manner. It's okay, despite the pot holes.
A highly informative portrait of one of the most remarkable men of the past century. This is a meticulously researched yet readable biography which presents the man with his aspirations, imprisonments, rise to power and personal disappointments. A 'warts and all' presentation like this - with Mandela's failings as well as his achievements and virtues - always makes the man appear greater as it's rooted in reality. This is a picture of the turbulent years of the particularly viscious apartheid system and a man who was willing to go down the road of reconciliation and nation building rather than conflict and revenge. I found the style easy - in fact I couldn't put it down. Highly recommended.