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A History of South Africa, Third Edition Paperback – March 1, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This magisterial history throws a floodlight on South Africa's current crisis by examining the past. The absurdity of the apartheid philosophy of racial separatism is underscored by the author's argument (backed with convincing research material) that the genes of the nation's first hunter-gatherers are inextricably mixed with those of modern blacks and whites. The Dutch colonial invaders felt no sense of kinship with the original inhabitants, however: their arrival brought slavery and disease, pulverizing chiefdoms and pastoral communities. From the outset, white settler society was dependent on the labor of slaves and indigenous peoples. Thompson, a specialist in South African history, expertly relates how the Afrikaners--still poor, scattered and disunited in 1854--threw off Dutch and British hegemony to forge their own national identity, forcibly uprooting and relocating millions of blacks. Although the author deems president Frederik W. de Klerk ``like his predecessors . . . wedded to fixed racial categories,'' he sees signs of hope in blacks' increasing economic power and the student revolt against pedagogical brainwashing in the state-controlled schools.

Copyright 1990 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA-- A penetrative probe into South Africa's memorable history. Beginning with the earliest aborigines of the area and concluding with the up-to-date happenings, Thompson examines primarily the encounters of blacks. The text is basic for any reader who wishes to comprehend the historical patterns that preface the struggles that seethe and boil in this country. A careful, reliable book for student research. --Mike Printz, Topeka West High School, KS
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 3rd edition (March 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300087764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300087765
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #216,666 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Scott W. on December 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
"I did not think it was possible for a white person to write a history of South Africa which a black South African would find to be a fair and accurate account of a beautiful land and its people. Leonard Thompson has disabused me of that notion. His is a history that is both accurate and authentic, written in a delightful literary style." -- Archbishop Desmond Tutu
This truly is an incredible historical masterpiece. The account begins with two chapters dedicated to the early Africans before European intervention, and ends with the fall of apartheid and a new beginning for South Africa. It is a easy to read, and is a real page-turner.
The reason I picked this book up was I wanted to dig beneath the surface of the country's history. I learned about the two Afrikaner Republics - The Orange Free State, and the Transvaal Republic - and how they were incorporated, reluctantly, into the Union of South Africa at the beginning of the 20th century. The detail is incredible, and not boring in the least.
I highly recommend this book - especially for those who need to do research reports on apartheid, or South African history in general. Overall - and excellent, excellent history book!
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Pri$m on March 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
I found every part of this book, except for the last chapter, to be thorough, even-handed and well written. As a South African with a strong interest in our history seeking to flesh out an incomplete knowledge of it, this is the best and most complete source I have found so far.

The third edition contains two new chapters: the first one describes the negotiation process and the transition to the new government, and the second is a description of the state of the New South Africa. The transition chapter is excellent -- it is insightful, fascinating and highly relevant to South Africa today.

However, I found the final chapter of this book to be badly written, overly pessimistic and, in places, dangerously subjective. Part of this is because it was written in 2000, and doesn't include some of the serious progress made since then -- for example, it mentions the sharp drop in the Rand's value in 1999 and 2000, but not its subsequent strong and equally rapid recovery in 2003 and 2004. This leaves the impression that the Mbeki government is doing a terrible job, whereas as of now (early 2005) it is doing relatively well.

However, some (not much, but a little bit) of the material in the final chapter contains the kind of alarmist statements that South Africans have come to expect (and learned to ignore) from certain (predominantly conservative) sections of the popular press, and are inappropriate in a book that claims to be accurate and factual. I suspect that Bishop Tutu might wish to have the glowing review he gave to the first edition removed from the cover of the third.

Nevertheless, provided the reader is willing to to be take the final chapter with a grain of salt, the book lives up to its billing and deserves its extremely positive reviews.
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85 of 99 people found the following review helpful By Book Nut on June 16, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I very much looked forward to receiving this book through the mail, due to the tons of praise which people expressed for it. I am however very disappointed. I have only read the first few pages (including the first one which quotes the multitude of praise) with emphasis on the summary/chronology of South African history. I am a South African, and I find it littered with inaccuracies which SHOULD NOT be present in a history book. It is painfully obvious that the book was written by a foreigner. Examples: The Boer war becomes "The war between the whites". I would have liked to see the Rand Revolt mentioned by name. Botha becomes prime minister. Botha who? Pik? PW? A newcomer to SA history should not have to guess at such things. 1981-1988 South African forces invade Angola. Uh....NO. SA started incursions into Angola in 1976. Since this is a history of SA, I will point out that a quick scan of the book reveals no more detail around these events, yet he takes a cheap shot at the Afrikaner government by making it sound as though they willy-nilly went into Angola for the sake of oppressing people. It seems that the author opted to avoid explaining the historical facts behind these VERY important events. What the reader does not know, is that Fidel Castro through this period of time circulated 350 000 (if I remember correctly) Cuban soldiers through Angola to infiltrate southern Africa with communism, through a war sponsored by Soviet money and state-of-the-art military equipment and training. The South Africans were responding to this threat to avoid the spread of communism into the region (it is rumored that the CIA condoned this until the withdrawal from Vietnam).Read more ›
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
Thompson's "History" is very comprehensive for a book that is relatively short in length. His account of African and settler life before white hegemony gives readers fresh perspectives on 20th century issues. However, once Thompson finally addresses apartheid he totally neglects to address intraracial issues that make black South Africa the volitile place it is. Instead, Thompson oversimplifies all of the issues facing South Africa by making them 'white vs. black.' Regardless, Thompson's book is a good reference for early South African history.
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