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Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation Hardcover – August 14, 2008


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Carlin offers the final dramatic chapters of how then president Nelson Mandela and his wily strategy of using a sporting event—the Sprinkboks rugby team in the 1995 World Cup—to mend South Africa. Carlin, a senior international writer for El País, quotes Mandela: Sports has the power to change the world.... It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers. After giving an informed capsule history of apartheid's bitter legacy and Mandela's noble stature as a leader, the scene is set for the influential rugby match between the solid New Zealand team and the scrappy South African squad in the finals of the World Cup, with 43 million blacks and whites awaiting the outcome. All of the cast in Afrikaner lore are here—Botha, DeKlerk, Bernard, Viljeon—as they match wits with Mandela. Carlin concludes this excellent book of redemption and forgiveness with chapters that depict how a divided country can be elevated beyond hate and malice to pride and healing. (Aug.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in a South African prison because of his position as the military leader of the African National Congress, the leading anti-apartheid organization. Amazingly, while inside, he actually increased his influence as a resistance leader. In 1994, after his release, he was elected South Africa’s president in the country’s first free election. Realizing that his new government was on tenuous ground and could disintegrate at any moment, he sought a symbolic moment that would unite the black citizenry with white Afrikaners and hit upon the idea of South Africa hosting rugby’s first World Cup. The first step was to convince South Africa’s national team—the Springboks—to get aboard. Mandela’s charm, determination, and patriotism won them over to the point that the team wound up singing the national anthem of the black resistance movement in a much-replayed television spot. Improbably, Springbok—once the sporting symbol of Afrikaner dominance and arrogance—advanced to the cup finals, gathering more fans, black and white, with each win. Carlin, former U.S. bureau chief for the Independent, was assigned to South Africa during the transition from white to majority rule. He personally interviewed most of the principals involved in this fascinating story and undertook the project with Mandela’s blessing. A new slant on the familiar but always inspiring saga of Mandela’s rise to power. --Wes Lukowsky
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Edition edition (August 14, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201749
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201745
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #534,217 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Carlin is senior international writer for El País, the world's leading Spanish language newspaper, and was previously the U.S. bureau chief for The Independent on Sunday. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, Wired, Spin, and Condé Nast Traveler.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Kornbluth TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
If you read nothing else this year, get your hands on "Playing the Enemy" and read pages 201 to 253.

It won't take long.

By the time Nelson Mandela walks into that stadium, your heart will be pounding. By the time he walks into the Springboks locker, you'll be in tears. And you'll cry pretty much straight through to the end.

All because, on June 24, 1995, the South African Rugby team beat New Zealand to win the Rugby World Cup.

If you're like most Americans, you know that Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison --- 18 of them in a tiny cell on Robben Island --- and emerged without hatred to spearhead a peaceful transfer of power in South Africa. But you probably know nothing about the 1995 Rugby World Cup match. John Carlin's brilliant book corrects that, and, along the way, presents a concise biography of a remarkable man.

In these pages, Nelson Mandela is a brilliant politician with a genius for disarming his enemies. To Mandela, everyone is human, everyone can be reached. The only question is how. In prison, he would introduce his lawyer to his "guard of honor" --- and his jailers would find themselves shaking hands with an attorney they loathed. And he used his dead time in prison to teach himself Afrikaans, read the Afrikaans newspapers and familiarize himself with Afrikaner history.

Rugby is the favorite sport of Afrikaners, the dominant white tribe in South Africa --- "apartheid's master race." All but one of the 15 players on the Springbok team were white. In a stadium that held 62,000, 95% of the crowd would be white. No wonder that blacks saw the Boks as a symbol of oppression.

"Don't address their brains," Mandela believed. "Address their hearts." One direct way to do that was through sports.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By L. Lawlor on January 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
A powerfully moving account of the impact of perhaps one of the most incredibly haumane and politically gifted individuals of all time, Nelson Mandella. (In reading this one cannot help but think of Ghandi.) The story of the transformation of South Africa, as put forth by this gifted author, John Carlin, is mesmerizing. Hard to put down. We are introduced to an array of individuals, on both sides of the predgeudicial conflict. The descriptions of the personalities involved are vivid and individualized in a most comprehensive manner. You develop a true feel for the ingrained vitriol of each. To witness the transcendant changes that these people went through is at once exceptionally emotional, and at the same time heart rendering. Well written. You are there involved in the excitement of the moment. The significance of a single sporting event, the world cup rugby competition in 1995, held in South Africa, and its impact on bringing the two cultures together, is absolutely fascinating. A most enjoyable adventure to read this book. Of course I am definitely looking forward to seeing the movie, but doubt that it could be as good as this book. Hope a lot of people read it.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By John G. Jazwiec on December 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I read this book over a year ago. I was pleasantly surprised to see it made into a movie. The book was well rated by the NY Times but it was hardly a best seller. I spent my time reading this book, marveling at Mandela from lawyer, to a prisoner who charmed his captors, negotiated with the government in secret, always without malice and never lost his dignity through it all. That was inspiring, but more so was how he brought together his country using the a World Cup Rugby Match. You are not human if you dont find yourself crying at what he accomplished. Mandela never had a lust for power, he ran the country and then retired. He never used his incarcertion to get back against people. Having Morgan Freeman playing him (the voice of God) is a particularly strong metaphor and remind us that leaders like Mandela come once in a generation.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By aquarius on July 2, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a simple story about an underdog national rugby team beating all odds to win a championship, this would be a very good story. What makes this story great, is that team has been chosen (by newly elected South African president Nelson Mandela) as a way to unite a South Africa torn by divisions caused by decades of government enforced segregation of blacks and pave the way for reconciliation between bitter enemies. Can the Springboks, a symbol of the old segregated government, truly make their motto "One Team, One Country" come true?

If you have watched "Invictus" be assured that this book has much more of the background to the people and events portrayed by the movie. The added detail gives one a sharper understanding of many of the principle characters in the movie and the true scope of Mandela's brilliance.

Highly recommended!
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Sara Shwartz on November 9, 2009
Format: Paperback
Awe inspiring. Carlin gives enough back history of South Africa and the poltical tension that preceeded the 1995 World Cup Rugby game to make you want to stand up and cheer at the end of the book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Tara Lawrence-Stuart on July 5, 2010
Format: Paperback
See the Movie, THEN Read the Book! And no, it's not all about rugby and the team. Sure, the book begins on the day of the Springboks' Rugby World Cup game against the New Zealand All-Blacks (so named for the color of their uniforms). Sure, it introduces us Yanks to the Springboks. But, in the following chapters, it retraces Mandela's life, 27-year imprisonment, his election to President, and finally to presenting the 1995 Rugby World Cup to the Springboks. It shows us a South Africa we thought we'd never see, let alone believe in. In fact, about two-thirds of the book covers Mandela's and others' lives, and much fascinating history, how Mandela turned a 27-year sentence into not bitter revenge but change, reconciliation, and uniting South Africans. While in prison, a rare strong seed was planted in the brain and heart of a man who had every reason to plot revenge against the injustices done to him, but the seed was nurtured and finally blossomed a few years before his release to make him speak truth to power as the world's most famous prisoner whom everyone wanted to free. Actually, he was still in effect the African National Council (ANC)'s leader. In the 27 years he aged from a young, husky warrior with a powerful Muhammad Ali-boxer's physique into a mellow, slender, and gracefully aged yet strong Xhosa elder (he was of chiefly ancestry), whose handsome Xhosa features were framed by a full crown of crinkly silver hair. He looked tired when he left prison but some of those wrinkles left as he became accustomed to freedom. As in the poem Invictus he was the master of his fate and the captain of his soul, prepared for anything and anyone, unfailingly courteous and respectful and even courtly to friend and foe, high and low, and, when necessary, he was blunt and straight.Read more ›
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