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

Average Rating 4.5
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2009


    This is a terrific read. Though they are releasing a movie they are missing the best part. I am an ex rugby player but I found the most interesting part takes place in the many years before the match. Three quarters of of the book is Mandela's negotiations with the Boer government during his captivity. I had no idea. It seems he went to great lengths to get to know his captors which included his gaining an understanding of their sporting interests. Later he has to transfer that interest to the Black African majority who hated rugby as it represented their oppressors. It is more a book about Mandela's human insight than the game.
    The fact that it was a unprecedented and unexpected and yet seemingly destined victory makes great icing for the cake. You needn't be a rugby fan, I am, you don't have to have been in South Africa when Mandela was released, I was, to enjoy this book. I sent it to my mother, father and step daughter and they all liked it.
    Don't miss it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 25, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Masterful This is book is about more than a sports story. This

    This is book is about more than a sports story. This is a story of human depravity and greatness. As well choreographed as any truly great Hollywood film (and incidentally turned into a movie with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon) or magnificent epic novel. Beautifully written and told with heartfelt sincerity this book completely captivated me even though I already knew the ending. I was riveted with each turn of the page, waiting in eager anticipation to see how the final triumph was brought into fruition.

    With the effortless flow of the narrative Carlin delicately unfurls the story like a blooming flower with each page coming together to create a colorful and deliciously scented bloom. Carlin masterfully orchestrates the different firsthand accounts and different viewpoints to put a together a fairly complete picture of the lead up to the South African hosted Rugby World Championship and the crowning jewel of Mandela’s presidentship. He lays out enough background to help us understand how incredible this turn of events were and gives enough individual stories to get the real impact of the situation. His compassion for all sides allows him to understand the differing viewpoints and pass that understanding onto us.

    Mandela is sketched as a clever, deliberate, politically savvy man raised up for just such a time in his country’s history to help it navigate the choppy waters of fear and impatience. Mandela is a genius; he knew where he wanted to take his country, found a means to get there, and convinced people from very fragmented groups to help implement a plan of action. “One Team, One Country” was not only the motto for the Springboks, but for every South African. Now granted the road from there has been bumpy for the country, but that should not take away from what it has accomplished and can accomplish in the future.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 8, 2008

    Great read!

    When Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa, the country was still deeply divided by the legacy of apartheid. This book tells the heartwarming story of how the Mandela used his considerable charm and charisma to rally blacks and whites around a game of rugby -- specifically the 1995 World Cup championship match between South Africa and New Zealand. I knew very little about South African politics (and even less about rugby!) before reading this book, but the author provided just enough background to make me appreciate the enormity of Mandela's challenge. This wonderful human interest story is a real winner. (I understand the book has been optioned to Hollywood, with Morgan Freeman slated to star. Is that perfect casting or what?)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2008

    History with Heart

    I read Bill Keller¿s review in the 'NY Times' and thought, wow, this sounds great. I picked it up and found it a terrific story, told dramatically and well. I thought, at first, not being a student of modern South Africa to any great extent, that the portrait of Mandela as this nearly omnipotent force for moral good was a bit overplayed. But as the story progressed, Carlin made his case. I am someone who¿s worked in progressive politics for some time, and I¿m a rugger, so there¿s a lot of resonance in this book for me. Some of the vignettes are terrific: Desmond Tutu stranded in San Francisco and desperately seeking a bar where he can watch the final match Mandela in prison teaching himself Afrikaans and Afrikaner history the largely apolitical and almost entirely Boer rugby team learning the liberation song, Nkosi Sikelele a black member of Mandela¿s presidential protection unit suggesting he wear the Springbok jersey to the final match and Mandela¿s reception from the fans at the match, almost all white, almost all Boers, chanting ¿Nelson, Nelson.¿ and the reaction of the Springbok manager: ¿It was the moment I realized that there really was a chance this country could work.¿ Great read! Pick it up. I can¿t wait for the movie in production now with Morgan Freeman as Mandela, Matt Damon as the Springbok captain, and directed by Clint Eastwood.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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