A biography of Nelson Mandela, subtitled ""From the Life of the South African Statesman."" Cooper (Coming Home, 1994, etc.) sets out a nearly impossible task, and in condensing a 78-year-old life, leaves out descriptions of torture, terror, and murder; of Mandela's wide-ranging and sometimes controversial talks with world leaders after his release from prison; and of--except in the author's note--the Nobel Peace Prize he shared in 1993. This ambitious attempt focuses on where Mandela came from and how his character was formed, his stubbornness and desire to ""stand firm"" for what he believes. Key events in Mandela's youth are used to illustrate his development; he marries, divorces, and remarries within one sentence; readers get a short lesson on apartheid without being shown the absurdity of the principle of minority rule; the 27 years Mandela spent in prison are treated only briefly. With stunning paintings of village scenes and reverential treatment of Mandela as determined student and eventual leader, this book will leave readers wanting more; without understanding or knowing about the disturbing violence of the policies Mandela fought, readers won't appreciate him or this tame depiction of his times. The author's note supplies a few crucial biographical details but repeats information and dates.