This memoir is remarkably free of polemics, self-pity, and self-aggrandizement. It is the work of a man who has led by...



In 1918, Nelson Mandela was born, the son of a tribal chief in the Xhosa nation.

In 1994, has was elected the first black president of a South Africa newly free of apartheid. In the 76 intervening years, Mandela's path was the path of his pepole and his country: painful, obstacle-ridden, often seemingly impassable. Here the leader of black South Africans' fight for freedom details each step of that journey. He writes with respect and affection of the traditional culture in which he was raised, even of his ritual circumcision at the age of 16; and he describes with remarkable dispassion the events that aided his growing politicization, such as the failed miners' strike of 1946; his quest for dignity even while imprisoned on Robben Island; and the dramatic negotiations with President F.W. De Klerk that culminated in a peaceful revolution in South Africa.

This memoir is remarkably free of polemics, self-pity, and self-aggrandizement. It is the work of a man who has led by action and example—a man who is one of the few genuine heroes we have.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 1994

ISBN: 0-316-54585-6

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1994

Obviously limited in its format, but these motivating quotes bring together the rousing thoughts of a global leader.



A stirring collection of quotes from the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Spanning several decades, this series of quotes from Mandela (Conversations with Myself, 2010, etc.) offers readers a compendium of wisdom reduced to bite-size nuggets. Pulled from personal letters to his wife, conversations with important world leaders, segments of speeches given at various official functions, notes from Long Walk to Freedom and other sources, these quotes give insight into the ever-hopeful mind of Mandela. Regardless of his own struggles, which included nearly three decades in prison, he continued to look upward and outward for his South Africa, believing that in the end, good would prevail. "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion,” he writes. “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Divided into four segments—struggle, victory, wisdom, and future—the book shows in brief the evolution of thinking this man confronted before, during and after his term in prison and into his "retirement." Although more background information on the man himself would be useful to those not familiar with Mandela's story, the quotes are inspirational and moving, regardless of any prior knowledge. An emotive introduction by Archbishop Desmond Tutu elaborates on the book, as he writes that the quotes are "like a visit with our most eminent global elder, who generously offers his wisdom for all to learn." The full script of Mandela's Nobel acceptance speech from 1993 rounds out this brief yet important look into the mind of a man determined to break apartheid regardless of the personal cost.

Obviously limited in its format, but these motivating quotes bring together the rousing thoughts of a global leader.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-7539-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

An inviting portrayal of a legendary political leader.



South African revolutionary Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (1994), adapted in graphic form.

The original found millions of readers worldwide. Since comics often cross cultural boundaries and enable semiliterate and beginning readers to gain easier access to texts, this could find an even more diverse audience. In the foreword, Mandela writes that, for older readers “whose eyesight is not what it was, there is the option of simply looking at the pictures.” That good-natured remark is characteristic of the man. The story opens with his birth in 1918 and the giving of his all-too-appropriate birth name, Rolihlahla, “troublemaker.” The Mandela family was removed from its village by magisterial decree, the first in a long line of encounters between Mandela and authorities working to serve the apartheid state. The drawings, produced by the Umlando Wezithombe collective of graphic artists and illustrators, are detail-heavy and sophisticated, though most of the white characters are on the cartoonish side, all snarls and drool. One major exception is Bill Clinton, who figures in the later pages and whom the artists capture in a perfectly nuanced pose, left hand on chin, pensive look on brow. The story line takes the reader through the complexities of the apartheid regime and Mandela’s legal troubles with it, and his release from maximum-security prison at Robben Island after decades of imprisonment as anticlimactic as it was in real life. It also depicts his near-overnight transition from outlaw to national leader with much the confusion and uncertainty that Mandela himself must have felt. “You know that you are really famous the day you discover that you have become a comic character,” he writes.

An inviting portrayal of a legendary political leader.

Pub Date: July 18, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-07082-8

Page Count: 204

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009



A law professor revisits the trial that “saved…the very soul” of South Africa.

This latest in the Pivotal Moments in World History series features the dramatic 1963–64 trial of 10 defendants, including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki, charged with sabotage against South Africa’s apartheid government. Named for the Johannesburg suburb in which all the conspirators except for the already imprisoned Mandela were arrested, Rivonia was a criminal trial with the life of each defendant at stake. It’s remembered, though, for its enormous political dimension, as the forum where the defendants, with considerable help from their extraordinarily talented team of advocates, helped frame the political and moral crisis wrought by the government’s apartheid system. For 25 years, Broun (Law/Univ. of North Carolina; Black Lawyers, White Courts: Soul of South African Law, 2000, etc.) has regularly traveled to South Africa helping to train young lawyers. His familiarity with the country, its legal system and three of the principal Rivonia defense attorneys lends special authority to his presentation and interpretation of the events. Rivonia featured its share of fireworks—an unlikely and successful pre-trial jailbreak by two of the arrestees, a stirring address to the court by Mandela—but Broun is at his best examining the legal subtleties of the trial and the strategies and agendas of the defense attorneys and government officials. All but two defendants were convicted and received life sentences. Dismantling apartheid, transforming South African law and ensuring the primacy of human rights would be the work of future decades, but, as the author demonstrates, all this would likely have unfolded far more violently but for Rivonia. A taut, intelligent analysis of a dramatic turning point in South African and, indeed, world history.  


Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-19-974022-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

Smith vivifies the personalities and marshals the revolutionary events without overwhelming the reader.


A biography shepherded by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and written by an English journalist attains distance from and clarity on the life of the near-sainted South African leader.

Sunday Times Magazine contributor Smith (One Morning in Sarajevo: 28 June 1914, 2008, etc.) works back in time from the arrest of Mandela on Aug. 5, 1962, for inciting a strike and leaving the country without a passport. With the busting of the underground headquarters of the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) the next year, his papers were discovered, implicating him in revolution and sabotage against the apartheid state, which secured his imprisonment on Robben Island for the next 26 years. In this readable, well-calibrated account of Mandela’s early life, Smith attempts to get at the making of the revolutionary and leader, from an impoverished young law student to his rise through the ANC ranks, military training and authoring of “How to Be a Good Communist.” The son of a Thembu chief who defied the white magistrate, Mandela was the first of his father’s four wives’ families to be educated. At Fort Hare University, he met his future law partner and ANC colleague, Oliver Tambo. Mandela was already proving to be a student leader and oppositional figure, and he escaped an arranged tribal marriage and met Walter Sisulu, an ANC leader, helped him find a clerkship while attending law school in Johannesburg. Mentored by Sisulu, Mandela was duly enlightened to the appalling conditions imposed on black Africans by the fiercely racist apartheid structure. Tall and handsome, Mandela was also a ladies’ man, marrying Evelyn Mase in 1944 (they had several children), before divorcing her for the much younger social worker Winnie Madikizela, in 1958. Increasing leadership in the ANC involved long absences and strains on the marriage, while Mandela was embroiled in the Treason Trial of the mid-’50s, endured a five-year ban on public speaking and schisms within the ANC and advocated armed struggle by 1961.

Smith vivifies the personalities and marshals the revolutionary events without overwhelming the reader.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-316-03548-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

A rousing, highly readable piece of history.



The Independent’s former South Africa bureau chief chronicles the 1995 Rugby World Cup victory that united a divided country.

Carlin (White Angels, 2004, etc.) presents a revealing and entertaining insider’s view of the improbable events leading to South Africa’s upset triumph over New Zealand, which many believe instantly secured a peaceful future for the then-unsettled nation. The Springboks, as South Africa’s team was called, may have secured the World Cup trophy, but the real hero of this stirring tale is recently elected President Nelson Mandela, who adopted the mostly Afrikaner players as his own and somehow got the predominantly black population behind them. Carlin shows that Mandela’s genius for swaying hearts and minds was nothing new. Jailed since 1964 by the country’s apartheid government, the African National Congress leader systematically won over his enemies, from a cruel prison warden to President P.W. Botha. By the time he was released in 1990, Mandela was a celebrated world figure and a hero to many at home. But even after his inauguration in May 1994, South Africa remained on the verge of civil war. The new president was smart enough to realize that his best chance of calming the white minority’s anger and fear was by getting a united South Africa behind the celebrated Springboks, who’d been banned from the first two Rugby World Cups, in 1987 and ’91, as part of an international anti-apartheid boycott. Carlin follows the events leading up to the 1995 World Cup with a knowing eye for both history and the sport of rugby. But most memorable of all is his portrait of Mandela: an inherently simple man (he rises at 4:30 a.m. every day to a breakfast of papaya, kiwi, mango, porridge and coffee) with a knack for the perfect political gesture, and the courage and conviction to pull it off.

A rousing, highly readable piece of history.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59420-174-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2008

A brief but moving look at the rare qualities of an effective, good-hearted leader.



Anecdotal, intimate remembrance of the South African leader by a journalist who grew to love him.

As the South African correspondent for the London Independent during the key years between the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and his election as president of South Africa in 1994, Carlin (Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, 2008) offers a thoughtful tribute to this unparalleled leader within the frame of his leadership legacy. The author looks at the various tactics Mandela used to bring about a nearly miraculous transition from apartheid to all-inclusive democracy in South Africa. His 27-year imprisonment had softened the edges of the African National Congress leader, who had served as head of the group’s armed wing. He was condemned in his 1964 trial for taking up arms against the state; in prison at Robben Island and elsewhere, Mandela had turned his unimaginable suffering into a sense of duty, gravitas and forgiveness, even of his enemies. In prison, his natural graciousness won over even his white guards, and he began to study Afrikaans in an attempt to understand the Afrikaner and his history. Mandela’s ability to take the long view, as Carlin delineates, allowed him to see beyond calls for vengeance after violence broke out within black townships, instigated by the rival Inkatha group or after the assassination of ANC leader Chris Hani by a white man in 1993. Mandela’s magnanimity disarmed both blacks and whites, and his incredible stature as a much-needed peacemaker largely kept his estranged wife from being prosecuted for the violence and murderous actions she had encouraged in her bodyguards. Carlin zeroes in on Mandela’s dignified capacity to allow all people, despite their backgrounds, to change and evolve for the good.

A brief but moving look at the rare qualities of an effective, good-hearted leader.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-0062323934

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2013



A new, comprehensive biography of South Africa's leader achieves that rare distinction of making both the man and his times come vibrantly alive in a work that is notably incisive and perceptive. The author, British academic and journalist Meredith, who has written widely on South Africa, details Mandela's remarkable life with admirable fairness and an appreciation of South Africa's complex history. He is also as quick to note Mandela's missteps (his condoning of Libya's policies and his long toleration of Winnie Mandela's association with criminals) as to record those extraordinary acts that changed history: his decision to work with former president de Klerk and his emphasis on peaceful reconciliation. Meredith not only records the facts of Mandela's life up to the present, but shows how they shaped him. Luck played its usual role, but ultimately it was the discipline first learned as a young boy observing the rules of the tribal court where his chieftain uncle dispensed justice that enabled him to survive prison and emerge unembittered. And it was his passionate hatred of racism—``I hate the practice of racial discrimination, and in my hatred I am sustained by the fact that the overwhelming majority of mankind hate it equally''—that led him to advocate a nonracial society rather than a purely African one. Meredith punctiliously includes the relevant historical background as he notes the familiar milestones: Mandela joining the ANC, the trials, the Robben Island years, the release, the subsequent elections. Meredith suggests that the 1960 Treason Trial marked Mandela's appearance as a future leader. The years since his release have not been untroubled, but for Meredith, Mandela's ``legacy is a country which has experienced greater harmony than at any previous time in its history.'' Not only a moving record of a man whose courage and conviction was so splendidly vindicated by events, but an exemplary work of biography: instructive, illuminating, as well as felicitously written. (b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-18132-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1997

A beautifully designed book that will resonate with children and the adults who wisely share it with them.


An inspirational ode to the life of the great South African leader by an award-winning author and illustrator.

Mandela’s has been a monumental life, a fact made clear on the front cover, which features an imposing, full-page portrait. The title is on the rear cover. His family gave him the Xhosa name Rolihlahla, but his schoolteacher called him Nelson. Later, he was sent to study with village elders who told him stories about his beautiful and fertile land, which was conquered by European settlers with more powerful weapons. Then came apartheid, and his protests, rallies and legal work for the cause of racial equality led to nearly 30 years of imprisonment followed at last by freedom for Mandela and for all South Africans. “The ancestors, / The people, / The world, / Celebrated.” Nelson’s writing is spare, poetic, and grounded in empathy and admiration. His oil paintings on birch plywood are muscular and powerful. Dramatic moments are captured in shifting perspectives; a whites-only beach is seen through a wide-angle lens, while faces behind bars and faces beaming in final victory are masterfully portrayed in close-up.

A beautifully designed book that will resonate with children and the adults who wisely share it with them. (author’s note, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-178374-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

More Book Lists

The Magazine: Kirkus Reviews

Jenn Shapland reclaims a queer icon in My Autobiography of Carson McCullers.

  • The Kirkus Star

    One of the most coveted designations in the book industry, the Kirkus Star marks books of exceptional merit.

  • The Kirkus Prize

    The Kirkus Prize is among the richest literary awards in America, awarding $50,000 in three categories annually.

    See the 2019 winners.

Great Books & News Curated For You

Be the first to read books news and see reviews, news and features in Kirkus Reviews. Get awesome content delivered to your inbox every week.

Thank you!

Looks good !! Please provide a valid email.