Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa

Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa

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by Martin Meredith
     
 

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Southern Africa was once regarded as a worthless jumble of British colonies, Boer republics, and African chiefdoms, a troublesome region of little interest to the outside world. But then prospectors chanced upon the world’s richest deposits of diamonds and gold, setting off a titanic struggle between the British and the Boers for control of the land. The

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Overview

Southern Africa was once regarded as a worthless jumble of British colonies, Boer republics, and African chiefdoms, a troublesome region of little interest to the outside world. But then prospectors chanced upon the world’s richest deposits of diamonds and gold, setting off a titanic struggle between the British and the Boers for control of the land. The result was the costliest, bloodiest, and most humiliating war that Britain had waged in nearly a century, and the devastation of the Boer republics. The New Yorker calls this magisterial account of those years “[an] astute history.… Meredith expertly shows how the exigencies of the diamond (and then gold) rush laid the foundation for apartheid.”

Editorial Reviews

Douglas Foster
"The buildup to this catastrophe [the Boer War] provides the narrative spine for Martin Meredith's accessible, nimble and moving account of the creation of pre-apartheid South Africa. It is complicated history, marked not only by the rivalries of European colonists but also by the varied fates of the indigenous groups the settlers overran. Without sacrificing nuance to story-line, Meredith manages to thread the tale through novelistic scenes and direct quotation."
—The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
Diamonds, Gold and War is the work of an author who knows African history intimately…Over time he has sifted through a century's worth of controversy over the context and causes of war between the British and the Boers to arrive at the version presented in these engrossing pages…Mr. Meredith's main accomplishment here is in providing a many-faceted, sensibly incisive overview of events that could easily be oversimplified, and have been in earlier accounts. Dismissing reductive ideas like the thesis that capitalism and imperialism collided to create a war that would benefit both, he shows how one misstep led to another, how fear yielded miscalculations, how national pride and arrogance created such poisonous conditions.
—The New York Times
The Spectator
Enthralling....Martin Meredith has made good use not only of recent scholarly work by also of contemporary sources... [Meredith] tells the story lucidly so that the reader can draw his own moral.
The New Yorker
[an] astute history . . . Meredith expertly shows how the exigencies of the diamond (and then gold) rush laid the foundation for apartheid.

Winnipeg Free Press
engrossing . . . Anyone interested in African history and the British Empire will find this book fascinating.

New York Times
A many-faceted, sensibly incisive overview of events that could easily be oversimplified, and have been in earlier accounts.
Kirkus Reviews
The unruly formation of South Africa, set to a backdrop of war over the country's invaluable resources. Meredith (The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair, 2005, etc.) plunders his expansive knowledge of the continent's history once again for this examination of the genesis of current-day South Africa. A ten-page introduction sketches Britain's contemptuous disinterest in the colony before the late 1800s; the main narrative opens in 1871, the year a fertile deposit of diamonds was discovered outside Cape Town. This triggered a hunt for further riches, and the region proved to be positively swimming in diamonds and gold. The author proceeds to take his readers on an epic journey into South African history stretching from 1871 to 1910 and revolving around the brutal, costly war that broke out between the British and the Boers, each side hungry for the riches springing from South African soil. Cecil Rhodes led the Brits, Paul Kruger the Boers; Meredith's vivid depictions of these men and their activities lie at the story's bloody heart. Rhodes is portrayed as a megalomaniac hell-bent on ruling over sizable portions of the globe. (His will contained instructions to extend British dominion throughout the world via a secret society he wished his successors to set up.) The author vibrantly captures the Brits' disastrous misjudgment of Kruger as "an uneducated, ill-mannered peasant." On the contrary, Meredith reveals, Kruger's oafish persona masked a keen intelligence far greater than he was given credit for; acknowledging this is key to understanding the strong resistance the Boers were able to stage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. The author alsocovers a tremendous amount of ground beyond the battlefield before threading his various strands together to paint a fascinating picture of the Afrikaner nationalism that emerged from this turbulent period and eventually resulted in the formation of Apartheid. No stone is left unturned in this dynamic analysis of an intriguing period in African history.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781586486419
Publisher:
PublicAffairs
Publication date:
09/22/2008
Pages:
592
Sales rank:
716,528
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.70(d)

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Wilbur Smith
It] will take a prominent place upon my bookshelf . . . I know I will re-read time and again over the years.

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