THE FOUNDER: Cecil Rhodes and the Enigma of Power by Robert I. Rotberg

THE FOUNDER: Cecil Rhodes and the Enigma of Power

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Encylopedic 752-page biography of the empire-builder who created the international diamond industry, established the nation of Rhodesia, and conceived and financed the Rhodes Scholarships. Rhodes was also the Premier of the Cape Colony, a deft manipulator of the British Parliament and African tribal chiefs, probably a repressed homosexual, a visionary, and an intimate of Queen Victoria, the Kaiser, and the Rothschilds. His should be a fascinating and compelling story. Unfortunately, the narrative here bogs down in a welter of facts and figures. Having devoted 17 years to researching the work, the author seems reluctant to leave anything out. Future historians will undoubtedly appreciate his thoroughness: the pages trace Rhodes' activities almost day-by-day, at times 'almost hour-by-hour. For the average reader, however, this obsessive detailing impedes the general sweep of the narrative and the shape of Rhodes' life is obscured. There are, however, many pages here that stand on their own as fine examples of historical writing. Dealing with the subject of his subject's probable homosexuality, Rotberg not only cites relationships that would seem to indicate such a sexual orientation, but also authoritatively discusses changing perceptions of same-sex attraction since the late 19th century. The author is equally adept at sketching the social and political expectations of the early South African settlers and has a sharp eye for the conditions of life in the rapidly developing area. This will surely prove a valuable tool for scholars, but for the general reader, a more selective, less all-inclusive approach to Rhodes' life would have been more appealing.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press