MANDELA by Anthony Sampson

MANDELA

The Authorized Biography

KIRKUS REVIEW

A comprehensive treatment of the life of the South African political prisoner, martyr, and president by journalist Sampson (Company Man: The Rise and Fall of Corporate Life, 1995, etc.), a long-time acquaintance and admirer. Adhering to a strict chronology, this biography follows Mandela from his boyhood in remote villages (where his father was a hereditary chief with four wives) to his miraculous transformation into an “overwhelming global icon.” Mandela benefits from Sampson’s thorough research and from his intimate knowledge of South Africa and of the myriad personalities who formed the cast for one of history’s most compelling dramas of personal sacrifice and redemption. Sampson reveals that Mandela at 16 endured a painful circumcision in a tribal rite of passage; he portrayed John Wilkes Booth in a college play; he was a skilled boxer; for 18 of his 27 years in prison, he lived in an eight-food-by-seven-foot cell and slept on a straw mat; and he once acknowledged that his second wife, Winnie (there have been two other spouses), kindled “a thousand fires in me.” Sampson enjoyed the full cooperation of Mandela, who not only granted access to his personal letters and other papers but also read and corrected drafts of Mandela. Although Sampson assures readers that he was “free to make . . . [his] own judgments and criticisms,” there are in this lengthy work very few places where Mandela emerges as anything other than a secular saint. Sampson concedes only that Mandela’s oratory is “far from thrilling” and that his devotion to the destruction of apartheid forced him to neglect his family. Winnie Mandela, by contrast, comes off poorly. She earns high marks for her pulchritude and panache, low marks for candor, probity, and, ultimately, sanity. A richly detailed political history, a generous portrayal of a consummate politician, and a true profile in courage—a courage both unimaginably immense and stunningly rare. (32 pages b&w photos, 2 maps, not seen) (First printing of 75,000;Book-of-the- Month Club/History Book Club alternate selection)

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-40019-2
Page count: 688pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1999




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