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Rhodes: The Race for Africa Hardcover – September 15, 1997

4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Anthony Thomas, a South African exiled in 1977 after he made an anti-apartheid documentary, approached English empire builder Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) with just the right attitude. Thomas strongly criticized the racially unjust and politically corrupt methods by which Rhodes built the white-dominated states of Southern Africa, but he was also fascinated by the forceful personality that enabled Rhodes to charm, cajole, and finagle his way into wealth and power. Vigorous prose and a propulsive story line do justice to Rhodes's action-packed life, which is also the subject of a Masterpiece Theatre dramatization by Thomas.

From Library Journal

Thomas, a native South African best known as a producer, has also written the six-part Masterpiece Theater series this biography is based on. He takes an evenhanded look at South African politician Rhodes (1853-1902), presenting his charm and intellect but not whitewashing how he used them. Thomas resists the temptation to psychoanalyze Rhodes, briefly discussing such items as Rhodes's sexual orientation and family relationships without dwelling on them. He uses and cites primary sources where possible and mentions where the lack of sources leaves a gap in our understanding of Rhodes; he offers theories as to what might have happened without attempting to prove any of them. The reader is left with an admiration for Rhodes's abilities and a repugnance for the apartheid system he helped create. For public and academic libraries.?Julie Still, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, N.J.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (September 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312169825
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312169824
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,312,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Eggen on November 25, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Antony Thomas does a very good job of presenting the life events a notable personage, while doing justice to the views of both Rhodes's many apologists and many critics. Rhodes thought his name would live on through his accomplishments for a thousand years, yet in less than a century, most of his work has been undone. Southern Rhodesia is now Zimbabwe and Northern Rhodesia is now Zambia.
I found the most interesting part of the book to be the description of the development and consolidation of the diamond fields at Kimberley. Oddly, the De Beers name which is now synonomous with diamonds around the world came from the name of a farm bought by Rhodes from the De Beers brothers early in the diamond rush. Other than this land sale, the brothers apparently had no role in the industry that made their name famous.
Much of the book deals with the ventures of the British South Africa Chartered Company, including the conquest of Southern Rhodesia (Matabeleland and Mashonaland), and the ill-starred Jemison Raid. The tales of economic and political intrigue, both in Britain and in Africa, are first rate.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a great read for many reasons. On the one hand, it is well written and well argued. Thomas states his judgement on Rhodes in the beginning, which is a negative one, but then weighs what can and cannot be said about the man based on available evidence. He does not make sweeping statements of any kind. He also measures what past biographers have said against the evidence.
On the other hand, the story itself is fascinating. Thomas delivers a convincing portrait of Rhodes, one that punctures the heroic image of the "Colossus of Africa" while still revealing the clever and opportunistic nature of the man. We learn that Rhodes was a sickly child, whose frailty drove him to Africa when he was a teenager. Personal frailty lasted his whole life--and killed him in 1902. Rhodes was not much of a student, though he was driven to go to Oxford to acquire the right credentials. Rhodes had greater ambitions than amassing wealth alone, but we are led to wonder how committed an imperialist and an English chauvinist he was, given his opportunism. Thomas also presents an engaging description of the people around Rhodes. One of the more interesting is that of Barney Barnato, a British Jew who came to South Africa and amassed a larger fortune than Rhodes ever did and who appeared to be a better businessman than Rhodes as well.
The larger story of South Africa is also integrated into the tale. The diamond and gold rushes are described with great detail, including the largely tragic conflicts with native Africans. There is also much detail about the conflicts between the English and Boers, and even the role of Great Power interests (mostly British).
A general sense of adventure and opportunity about South Africa seems to exude from the story throughout.
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Format: Hardcover
Antony Thomas states up front that he is certainly no fan of Cecil Rhodes, and from that statement, the reader might expect to be treated to a real chop job. Instead, one gets a remarkably even-handed treatment of Rhodes. It would be easy simply to characterize Rhodes as evil, but to Thomas' credit, he does not take the easy way out. He is more than prepared to exam what can be best described as Rhodes' moral ambiguity.
I would not call Rhodes amoral in the strictist sense. He knew well enough when he was doing wrong to want to conceal his activities. Nor would I call him a ruthless pragmatist. His devotion to his friends was quite real, and in the case of Neville Pickering's death, Rhodes' all-consuming grief ultimately kept him from purchasing land that he knew was rich in gold. His personal feelings kept him from making a second, utterly massive, fortune in gold. That is hardly the action of pragmatist.
Trying to figure out what made Rhodes tick becomes trickier the more one examines his deeds. Even Thomas is vexed at times at how easily Rhodes moves from one alliance to another, and completely reverses his stands on issues such as native rights. By the time of his death, Rhodes was lionized throughout the British Empire as being in the vanguard of imperialists, but Thomas shows that for most of his career, he was strictly pursuing his own economic and political interests, and did not cloak himself in the gard of British Imperialism until it was absolutely necessary.
Thomas does not only focus on Rhodes. He demonstrates that most of the men that Rhodes dealt with could be, at times, just as morally ambiguous as he. Rhodes knew well that every man has his price, and demonstrated it again and again.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I never understood Cecil Rhodes, the empire and fortune builder of southern Africa. Other than the scholarship, everything I had ever heard growing up in the US while apartheid was still in effect was that this man was evil beyond belief. In fact there was a period when South Africans replaced the fallen Soviets in the movies as the next evil empire. I always suspected there was a great deal more to Rhodes' story than racism, enslavement, and theft on a grand scale. I just never had a source that put any of this into context. It was also too easy to blame the Dutch for the evils of Africa even though they had no official role there since the 19th century.

Antony Thomas is a South African and puts Rhodes in context after an exhaustive study of primary materials which became the basis for both this book and the companion TV program. Thomas helps us to understand Rhodes' style of cajoling, negotiating, and ego-building to enable the building of his business and political empire. It seems bribery and undue influence of the media were also routine, practiced by many including Rhodes. Unlike his contemporary Kruger, Rhodes avoided open conflict when possible although he certainly encouraged it in the Jameson raid. In his business affairs he was the master of co-opting his competitors. No reason to compete with worthy adversaries if all could join in a Rhodes-led plan to consolidate the gold and diamond business. Clearly those businesses needed a lot of reforms given they went up faster with fewer regulations and structure than the earlier California gold rush.

We learn a lot about Rhodes' motivation to quickly build his empire. His health was always poor. He was told that he may not reach 30 and he did not reach 50.
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