From Yale historian Thompson, a timely and commendable endeavor: a South African history that's as much the story of blacks and coloreds as of whites. Apart from its more inclusive approach, however, it lacks perceptive insights, and that vitality that characterizes the best histories. Taking advantage of new archaeological and anthropological discoveries, Thompson describes southern Africa, just before the first white 'settlers arrived, more fully than other comparable books have done. He distinguishes three main groups among the precolonialists: the hunter-gatherers, the mixed farmers, and the pastoralists. The competition between these groups for scarce land and water was exacerbated and intensified by the Dutch settlers' arrival at the Cape. It was a competition that was to form a continuing thread through the next 300 years as the whites, aided by European technology and the discovery of gold and diamonds, sought more and more of the land and resources for themselves. Thompson makes this competition the major theme of his history and uses it to interpret all the familar significant historical events in South Africa--the Trek into the interior; the clash on the frontier with the Xhosas; the British annexation; the rise of the Zulus; and, in the 20th century, the parallel growth of Afrikaner and black nationalism. Given the rapid evolution of events in South Africa, Thompson can be forgiven for ending his book rather abruptly in the autumn of 1989, but some deeper analysis would have taken his history beyond the textbook level it comes perilously close to being at times. Even his interpretation tends to be presented as fait accompli rather than as intellectual argument. Useful, then, but not definitive.