South Africa Book Reviews

Looking for a good book on South Africa to read? Soccerphile reviews some of our favourite books on South Africa.

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Rough Guide To South Africa: Buy this book from Amazon.

The Rough Guide to South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland

Tony Pinchuck et al

ISBN: 185828449X
Rough Guides; Paperback, 896pp

Published in 2008 The Rough Guide to South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland is an invaluable travel guide to southern Africa. The introductory colour section complete with maps, photographs, 28 things not to miss and a listing of South Africa's amazing wildlife whets the appetite for any trip to the southern hemisphere's Rainbow Nation. South Africa is a huge country and there are over 700 pages of information on South Africa's provinces as well as Lesotho and Swaziland. The Rough Guide to South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland is particularly good on accommodation and places to eat and drink and my only gripe with the book is its rather sketchy emphasis on transport, if you are not safely ensconced in a hire car.
Recommended highlights are the excellent history and music sections as well as good detail on books to read before you go and the educational wildlife section.
There's no particular emphasis on the 2010 World Cup, though if your first visit to South Africa is to follow one of the 32 teams at the tournament, this is an excellent book to slip into your suitcase before departure.

Jane Seymour

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Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet: South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland

James Bainbridge et al

ISBN: 1741048907
Lonely Planet; Paperback, 684pp

Lonely Planet's South Africa Lesotho and Swaziland guide came out in 2009 and offers the by now well-established and well-appreciated Lonely Planet virtues of excellent nitty-gritty travel information. The getting there and getting away sections are a great help to travelers who may be using public transport to reach their destinations. Bus, train and taxi options for each town or city are well researched. Though not a fan of the grayscale layout and maps, there is enough color in the book in the Highlights and Wildlife & Habitat sections to do justice to the colorful beauty of South Africa's great open spaces. There are informative chapters on the troubled history, varied music and largely incomprehensible languages of South Africa as well as precise, well-written boxed texts. The 2010 World Cup and the venues to be used in the tournament get some coverage and all-in-all if you are taking a guide to South Africa, this could be the one to pack.

Jamie Wainscot

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Diamonds Gold
And War

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

Martin Meredith

ISBN: 1416526374
Pocket Books; Paperback, 592pp

If you enjoy your history as adventure story, Martin Meredith's Diamonds Gold And War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa is a thrilling yarn detailing South Africa's gripping history of the late 19th century. From the diamond mines of Kimberley to the goldfields of the the Witwatersrand to the white land grab of black African lands, Meredith's avid research and retelling of the available resources: contemporary newpapers, personal memoirs, letters and official documents from the time brings to instant life the turbulent and often violent story of the great race for Africa.
Standing like colossi over this period of white expansion in southern Africa's history are the domineering figures of Cecil Rhodes and Paul Kruger, later to clash in the final years of their lives in the Second Boer War of 1899-1902. The unremitting back story of this fine book is the loss of black southern Africans' rights to their own lands, the ultimate failure of the frequent uprisings by Zulus and other African tribes, the beginnings of the pass system which eventually lead to Apartheid, and the desire of both Boer and British to relegate the native population to the role of servants and labourers as the white colonialists played out their game to modernize, capitalize and "civilize" Africa. Highly recommended.

Sonora Rashid

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Playing The Enemy

Playing The Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made A Nation

John Carlin

ISBN: 1843548593
Penguin; Paperback, 274pp

If sports fans to the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa pack only one book to prepare themselves to understand something of South Africa's transition to majority rule under the guidance of Nelson Mandela, the nature of Apartheid and the country's turbulent modern history, then John Carlin's excellent Playing The Enemy should be that book. Playing The Enemy, which details an earlier sporting tournament, the 1995 Rugby World Cup won by South Africa on home soil, inspired the recent movie Invictus starring Matt Damon as the Springbok captain François Pienaar and Morgan Freeman as Mandela. Carlin, a South Africa-based journalist for the British newspaper, The Independent, when he researched the book, built the gripping, tear-jerking plot around interviews with the main protagonists of the story, Mandela, Pienaar, Desmond Tutu, General Constand Viljoen and many others on both sides of South Africa's political divide. As Mandela attempted to keep his fractious country together and manufacture a sense of national reconciliation in the aftermath of the fall of the Apartheid regime, he hit upon sport and rugby in particular, the beloved game of the country's Afrikaaners to "address their hearts" and unite South Africans around the slogan of "One Team, One Country." Playing The Enemy charts Mandela's success as he dons a replica Springbok shirt and walks out to greet the teams at Ellis Park, with the mainly white crowd chanting "Nelson, Nelson" before the underdog Springboks defeat the mighty New Zealand All Blacks to temporarily banish the demons of a nation on the brink before Madiba weaved his political magic. Recommended.

Jeff Buckley

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