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Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  3,063 Ratings  ·  440 Reviews
A thrilling, inspiring account of one of the greatest charm offensives in history--Nelson Mandela's decade-long campaign to unite his country, beginning in his jail cell and ending with a rugby tournament.

In 1985, Nelson Mandela, then in prison for twenty-three years, set about winning over the fiercest proponents of apartheid, from his jailers to the head of South Africa'
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 14th 2008 by Penguin Press HC, The (first published January 1st 2008)
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Blood River by Tim ButcherThings Fall Apart by Chinua AchebeThe Poisonwood Bible by Barbara KingsolverHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieHeart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
105th out of 1,250 books — 1,242 voters
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World Literature (in English) at the Movies
1st out of 34 books — 9 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon)
I'm not going to belabor the point here, as I ususally do.

We often act, despite everyone's acknowledgement to the contrary, as if our generation invented racism, homosexuality, godlessness, greed, gluttony, and, sometimes hate. If we don't buy in to that common portrayal of who caued history's woes we sometimes still seem to see these things as "ours to fix" and take ownership where it's difficult to establish who is responsible for what. "We must stop this NOW!" yet, if the problem has lasted f
Petra X
May 05, 2015 Petra X rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel-adventure
Nelson Mandela is my hero. Rugby is my game (I'm from the South Wales valleys, 'nuff said).

Simply the best book I've read all year, it was absolutely awesome. Mandela's methods for disarming and charming everyone were inspirational - this is the only inspirational book I've read (I can't get into that genre at all).

I've just been chucked out without notice from a private group 'Back in Skinny Jeans' on Goodreads where some member/s don't like non-Americans, non-Republicans, non-Christians and
Nov 01, 2013 Fern rated it it was amazing
I had tears in my eyes remembering that incredible day in Johannesburg as if it were yesterday. I remember during the rugby World Cup final that the streets were eerily silent as every South African sat rapt in front of their television, hoping against all hope that our team could accomplish the impossible. I was 12 years old as I sat with my dad, all nerves and raw emotion, watching the game. The joy that erupted in the streets after we won is a sight I will never forget. The whole country, bla ...more
Nov 14, 2011 Marvin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Good if flawed account of Mandela's struggle to unify South Africa. The author did a good job in showing how tenuous the country was during Mandela's term as president and Mandela"s role in stabilizing a very dangerous period in history. However there are just too many flaws in this book to thoroughly enjoy it. First, there is the formal and stiff writing style of the author. It tends to be unfocused in describing the events. Secondly, while The author sincerely admires Mandela, and there is muc ...more
Jul 12, 2011 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, meridian
1994 was a critical year for South Africa. A president had been elected by almost two-thirds of voters in the first truly democratic, one-person, one-vote elections the country had ever had. Tensions were simmering just barely under the surface, not infrequently erupting into violent neighborhood rallies, bloody skirmishes, and even assassination. Many of the white Afrikaner minority were worried about reprisals from the black majority, some of whom were undoubtedly eager for revenge or at least ...more
Mar 03, 2009 Edwin rated it really liked it
Basically put, Nelson Mandela is the MAN. We tend to reduce people to symbols, to say-- oh yeah, him, he's the guy that did this, or she's the "that" girl, or whatnot. And that was basically the nature of my knowledge of Mandela-- a vague sense of his wisdom and love of freedom or something.
I don't know if this is the best book ever written about Mandela. But reading it definitely has given me a fuller appreciation of a man I had once thought of only as a symbol. He is a master manipulator, ambi
May 27, 2009 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Fascinating. I'm a huge rugby fan and I have a strong interest in SA politics. I've read Mandela's autobiography, but this was a close-up on a short period of time, with a different focus. I've seen the footage of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and I've heard firsthand accounts of the way it brought the country together, but this book gave me a new perspective on the attitudes pre-Mandela. It shows the vision that Mandela had of sport as a unifier, the chances that he took, and the dramatic changes t ...more
Jan 07, 2010 Chris rated it liked it
Shelves: hist-misc
This book is both inspiring and boring. If you want to know about how South Africa was able to avert THE civil war that all the experts proclaimed was inevitable then read this book. If you want to know about rugby and the game then don't read this book. This book is a "paean" to Nelson Mandela, who was truly the right man at the right time in the right place. Mandela makes Clinton and Reagan look like lightweights with his ability to charm,rebound, and chart the right course at critical decisio ...more
Cath Duncan
Jun 18, 2010 Cath Duncan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nelson Mandela is the epitome of Agile Living and Agile Leadership, which is essentially about living in a way that exercises your freedom and expands freedom for others. Exercising your mental and emotional freedom is the foundation of Agile Living and creating all the other types of freedom that you might want for yourself and the people around you. In spite of having many of his freedoms severely constrained and restricted, and having his loved ones tortured and killed in terrible ways, Nelso ...more
Nora Lockett
Nov 15, 2010 Nora Lockett rated it it was amazing
I became interested in this book in a very roundabout way. I am a fan of rugby, and the South African team the Springboks in particular, and picked up this book for that reason. I was not prepared for the sheer power of what I read. I must say that I never realized how very evil apartheid was until I read the details in this book. For part of the time, tears streamed down my face as I grieved the injustices suffered by the black African people of South Africa. Central to the book is the one inju ...more
Jul 11, 2011 Becca-Rawr rated it really liked it
'Playing the Enemy' is one of those non-fiction pieces that you scarcely would have allowed yourself to believe to be true, lest you know it was. It is also one of these texts that you pick up, completely prepared for on subject, and soon you are delivered something that you did not expect.

The novel follows the famous south African Nelson Mandela, president, human rights activist and, as accordance to the subject matter of the book, a dedicated rugby fan. The first half, if not more, of the book
Neha Mehta
Jan 10, 2016 Neha Mehta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a child of segregation, this book brings back some very real memories and emotions. It also shows the greatness that lives within all men. Nelson Mandela has always been one of my heroes and this book shows his understanding of human nature as well as his political acumen. He united the rainbow nation at a time whenever everyone thought it would go the way of so many of the other African countries. This was an extremely powerful and humane story. It showed the power of understanding your enem ...more
Jan 03, 2010 Loida rated it it was amazing
The author is a journalist - if you are a fast reader you will speed through this book. Reading more like a longer magazine article, Carlin lays an informative foundation of the events leading to Mandela's release from prison and his vision to unite South Africa through rugby. If you do not know anything about this event, I would say it's a must-read - if you do have knowledge of the event or are into heavy non-fiction it may be on the lighter-reading side; but it doesn't take anything away from ...more
Dec 12, 2010 smetchie marked it as to-read

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I just love that book!!!!
First because it is about rugby, a sport I really enjoy. And also because it is about Nelson Mandela, a man who succeeded to save a country from civil war. He was a hero and a great man. Instead of choosing the easy option and go to war, he made peace with the enemies.
I watched the movie first and I really loved it but I didn't know there was a book about it. And when I found it I thought it would talk a lot about rugby but on the contrary! You learn so much more about
4.5 stars

This is not just a book about a rugby game that made a nation, it's also about uniting white and black people in a nonracist attitude. It's a tale about forgiving, developing new ways of thinking. It's a tale about a great man who had the courage to do what nobody else had ever thought of doing, who achieved what nobody else had ever wanted to achieve. The book has an energy of its own just like Mandela had. This book has strenght in its words - so much so that towards the end I almost
Barbara Burd
Jun 08, 2014 Barbara Burd rated it really liked it
This book is our campus' Big Read for the fall semester, so while reading,it, I tried to imagine how it would be received by our incoming freshmen. While the life of Mandela is well-known to many, I'm not sure he is familiar to the typical first-year student. The author Carlin is an accomplished journalist and his writing reflects that. His work is well-researched and his access to Mandela lends authority to the book. The book increased my understanding of the many levels of racial tension in So ...more
Mar 14, 2011 Patrick rated it really liked it
Like a lot of books I end up reading, I saw the film first. The film was average at best (and the rugby scenes were very poor in my opinion), so it wasn't hard to beat by the book. That being said, the book doesn't surpass the film in the way it told the same story, the book surpasses the book in that it interweaves more storylines, more subplots and more characters into this fascinating story. After reading this book -- which is fascinating for multiple reasons including geopolitics, race relat ...more
Aug 29, 2008 John rated it it was amazing
August 17, 2008
Entering the Scrum
Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation
By John Carlin
Illustrated. 274 pp. The Penguin Press. $24.95

The heart-lifting spectacle of South Africa’s first free election in April 1994 was, for Nelson Mandela and his followers, a triumph unimaginably sweet, but perilously incomplete. Mandela was keenly aware that his party’s victory, secured by a landslide of black votes, lacked the endorsement of alienated whites, and that whites
Mar 10, 2010 Rebecca rated it it was ok
What started as a great book took me a long time to actually finish. I mean there was no suspense or no surprise at the end, anyone who knows anything about rugby knows the All Blacks lost the world cup in 1995...or hence the Springbok won.

Something just didn't sit right for me through the book, I honestly don't know much about Mandela or South Africa in general at the time, but this book didn't make me want to know more.

I struggled to understand how the South Africian rugby team could not get t
Jun 03, 2010 Michele rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-of-2010
President Mandela:
I must apologize. Living in South Africa when you were let out of prison, I saw propganda on t.v. and assumed it must be true. Reading this book helped me to see how wonderful you really are. It really changed my opinion of you and I will be forever grateful.
It really took me back to my time in the M.T.C. when they taught us "culture classes"-- courses designed to help us relate to the Afrikaaner culture and understand them better. I felt like they helped a lot and I was sad wh
Tracy Best
Feb 23, 2010 Tracy Best rated it it was amazing
An incredible book; I can't wait to see the movie now. I'd always heard about apartheid, of course, but I apparently never really "got" it. I was entirely overwhelmed just reading about the tasks: Liberate the black from bondage AND liberate the white from fear.

The black population was understandably angry...which often led to violence.

The white population was fearful...which often led to violence.

There was no trust, no communication, and a whole lot of misunderstanding.

Not only did he succeed,
Jan 17, 2016 Don rated it liked it
Loved the movie, 'Invictus'. Hope the book is as good.

August 20/2010
I began reading a few weeks ago. I am afraid that it is not as appealing as the movie; however, I must add that I am not a fan of this genre and generally read for enjoyment.

While the story is interesting it is not engaging as far as I am concerned. I prefer the page turners that are totally implausible but fun to read. It is going to be one of those books to be read in-between the escapism books and will be read a few chapter
Rodney Harvill
Dec 03, 2015 Rodney Harvill rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
While the central event of this book is the 1995 rugby world cup, the book provides much background information about the history of apartheid in South Africa and the events leading up to the end of apartheid, the commencement of majority rule and the election of Nelson Mandela to the office of the presidency. While I recognize that Mandela is a controversial figure because of his role in the communist ANC, I have to respect his handling of the transition to majority rule. While he was still in ...more
Oct 30, 2015 Darcy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before reading John Carlin’s, Invictus, Nelson Mandela, South African politics, and rugby were three subjects that took up about 0.05% of my brain space. I knew they existed and after that there was nothing but dead air. I love it when a book makes up a deficiency in my knowledge and reading Invictus was a tremendously eye-opening experience for me.

Invictus tells the story of how Nelson Mandala used rugby, in particular the Springboks team, to ease racial tension and unite South Africa. The Spr
Nov 16, 2011 Hathal rated it it was amazing
I read this book under its new name "Invictus" then I watched the movie carrying the same name. Carlin sheds light on the role of sport in mitigating and resolving conflicts. Unlike the movie, the book goes deep into the roots of the apartheid regime of South Africa and the struggle of Nelson Mandela to claim the rights of the black people. Nevertheless, I think that Carlin was professionally neutral in his description of events. It is a very enlightening book written in a beautiful style.
Pablo Martin
Aug 28, 2016 Pablo Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anglófonos
Hace unos meses leí «El factor humano», la novela de John Carlin sobre Nelson Mandela, no me terminó de convencer como novela, a mi juicio tiene poca literatura, pero sí me pareció interesante como crónica periodística; descubrir con detalle todo lo que siempre había oído de Mandela me hizo admirarlo aún más; de hecho, si me preguntaran cual es el personaje histórico que más admiro, respondería sin ninguna duda que Nelson Mandela. ¿Y por qué? ¿Cuál sería la razón principal de mi admiración? No v ...more
Bruno Borges
Jun 11, 2016 Bruno Borges rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was a great book, I've seen the movie based on book before and that motivated me to read the book, the first half of the book is good, talking about the background events into the Mandela's inauguration presidency, his release, the race conflicts in South Africa, when the history gets the World Cup climax, it becomes thrilling! Sometimes I cant believe that is about real history. I strongly recommend this book.
Jul 15, 2016 Cudeyo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Vi la película en el cine cuando la estrenaron hace unos años: "Invictus" protagonizada por Morgan Freeman y Matt Damon, y desde entonces he tenido ganas de leer el libro. Por fin, lo he hecho y no me he arrepentido. Como casi siempre, el libro es mucho mejor que la peli, pero en este caso con una diferencia crucial: el libro no está novelado, sino que es una mezcla de entrevistas, biografía y ensayo de historia. Por lo que si no te gusta leer libros de historia o biografía, este no es tu libro. ...more
Feb 11, 2011 Germà rated it liked it
És un panegíric, si. Però qui pot resistir-se a una personalitat com la de Mandela? Carlin el va tractar en profunditat, i és comprensible que hagi caigut rendit als seus encants. La història és magnífica i mereixia ser explicada de la manera com ho fa Carlin. Si t'agrada la llibertat, gaudiràs amb aquest llibre. Si a més a més també t'agrada el rugbi, aleshores et fascinarà!
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“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, the power to unite people that little else has...It is more powerful in govenments in breaking down racial barriers.” 10 likes
“Your freedom and mine cannot be seperated” 7 likes
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