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The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation Under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879
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The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation Under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879

4.25  ·  Rating Details  ·  591 Ratings  ·  53 Reviews
Filled with colorful characters, dramatic battles like Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift, and an inexorable narrative momentum, this unsurpassed history details the sixty-year existence of the world's mightiest African empire; from its brutal formation and zenith under the military genius Shaka , through its inevitable collision with white expansionism, to its dissolution unde ...more
Paperback, 655 pages
Published August 22nd 1998 by Da Capo Press (first published January 1965)
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Community Reviews

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Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it it was amazing
I first read The Washing of the Spears when I was twelve years old. I know this because the inscription in my battered, dog-eared, self-annotated copy reads: "1992 Nov. 18 day cast on (r) thumb, love mom". See, I had broken my thumb at recess, playing a variation of soccer in which you could catch the ball in your hands and either run with it or punt it. If you ran, you got tackled. It was an incredibly fun, incredibly violent mash-up of soccer, rugby, and football, and of course could never be ...more
'Aussie Rick'

I have a 1965 copy of this great book and I don't think that there has been a better account of the rise & fall of the Zulu nation. This is one of the best accounts of how the Zulu nation become one of the most feared in Africa under Shaka and how it fell to ruin under Cetshwayo during the war with England in 1879. A great read that has not aged in these 30 odd years. This book has been the standard that all others have been compared to since its publication. It's one of my all time favourit
Mar 28, 2009 Jason rated it really liked it
I am pleased to say, The Washing of the Spears long held reputation as a classic of military history is well earned. Morris was an American naval officer in the 40s and a CIA agent when he wrote this work of immense quality and deep scholarship. Of course, much of the material is dated, but that cannot detract from its accomplishment. To this day, many refer to it as the seminal work on the Anglo-Zulu Wars. No doubt, that is as much a tribute to the quality of the narrative prose as it is to th ...more
Sep 11, 2009 Michael rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military, history
I don't know why, but I'm fascinated by the Zulus and their encounter with European civilization. The book's beginning and end are really strong, while the in-between plods.

The beginning details the arrival of the Zulus and the Europeans in southern Africa. The situation he describes is different than the standard colonization narrative. According to the author, the arrival in mass of the Bantu -- of which the Zulu were a small clan -- in what was to prove the southernmost reaches of Zululand wa
Apr 20, 2008 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read earlier edition in the late 80s after visiting parents in Gaborone in 1983. The Zulu history written in James Mitchener's The Covenant and this book match, as well as the incident depicted in the films Zulu ( and Zulu Dawn ( It is rare that a historical event/period is portrayed so accurately in two books AND two movies. I recommend both books and films if anyone is interested in the Zulu wars. The television film Shaka Zulu> (http://qurl.c ...more
Stephen Hughes
Jul 27, 2012 Stephen Hughes rated it really liked it
If you only read one chapter of this book, make sure it's the one about the defense of Rorke's Drift. Awesome. then watch the movie Zulu.
I am having a really hard time in rating this book. First - I am not a fan of non-fiction books really so trying to judge this in comparison to other books (the main way I rate books if the rating doesn't immediately come to me) is not fair as my bases of comparison is fictional works. Second - I stopped reading this book for .... four months or so because it was so... *yawn*. So... yeah.

There are parts of this that are really good (although it is certainly not up to the same standard as other
May 13, 2014 Chris rated it really liked it
4.5 stars.

This book is a huge surprise. Written in the mid 1960s, it manages to maintain a careful and objective attitude towards both sides of a confused situation. Morris pulls no punches, in addressing either the Zulus or the British, and this equal opportunity critical analysis makes this a very impressive read.

Covering the history of Natal and the Zulu nation from the 17th century until the end of the 19th century, this book is an exhaustive yet very engaging chronicle of a war started deli
If you ever saw the 1964 film "Zulu" (with a very young Michael Caine) you'll remember the siege of Rorke's Drift--- a great set-piece of cinema. And a grand depiction of a battle. I saw the film long ago, and then sought out books on the Zulu Wars. "The Washing of the Spears", forty-odd years since it first appeared, is very much a classic. It's old-school writing: blood-and-thunder, individual bravery, grand scenes. And surprisingly sensitive and sympathetic to the Zulu, while still understand ...more
Jul 21, 2012 Matt rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This was an excellent book. It is divided into two parts, as mentioned in the title. The first part starts slow and is meticulously researched and details the history and evolution of the Zulu empire and the tribal politics associated with the successors to Shaka. The book picks up with the depiction of the Zulu War and the movements in each battle are thoroughly detailed and explained. I really enjoyed it, particularly the chapter on Rorke's Drift
Feb 22, 2013 Mark rated it really liked it
An incrediably detailed and well researched account of the rise and fall of the Zulu Empire. Many chapters, especially the opening of the 1879 War where Morris focuses on individuals and narrates events from their perspective read like an adventure novel from the Victorian era. For me this book brought this period of history to life and I found the book a page turner.
Bryan Reed
Jul 04, 2009 Bryan Reed rated it it was amazing
I always love it when history books are page turners. Morris tells the entire story of the Zulus, from their unification under Shaka to the British invasion and finally their fall under Dinuzulu. Isandlwana and Roarke's Drift are covered in detail as is the entire campaign leading up to the Battle of Ulundi.
Jonnie Enloe
Aug 21, 2011 Jonnie Enloe rated it it was amazing
you really cannot put this book down if this subject interests you at all. Read before the Boer War.
Sheds light on British history of oppression among "more ignorant" peoples of the world. The Zulu nation proves it's metal and is not defeated because of it's lack of command, tactics or bravery.
Oct 02, 2015 Jim marked it as unfinished
Shelves: war, history
I think I read the Shaka part of this in the 2000's.
Thomas Isern
Feb 28, 2015 Thomas Isern rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-history
Dated, but classic. It seems to hold high regard for being a page-turner, full of bloody action and human interest. It is, too, worthy of thoughtful reading by anyone interested in racial conflicts on colonial frontiers.

A half-century on, of course, The Washing of the Spears lacks some of the sensibilities and approaches of our oh-so-sophisticated twenty-first century. There is, for instance, once you get to the core conflict recounted in the book, no hint of Zulu agency. Zulus just swarm like b
Jeni Enjaian
Feb 19, 2013 Jeni Enjaian rated it liked it
A review from my old blog...

I give a warning at the beginning. This is a book for history nerds only. :D

While this book took me quite some time to read (because of the enormous length--614 pages--and because of Election Day interruptions) I enjoyed the book.

At the same time it was quite a chore to read. The only reason that the book seemed to make sense to me was because I took a class on the history of Africa and watched a video of the battle that took nearly three hundred pages to recount... o
Feb 20, 2008 Bap rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Christopher Saunders
Apr 13, 2013 Christopher Saunders rated it it was amazing
Despite the title this book is more a panoramic history of South Africa up to 1879, focusing on the Zulus, Boers and British about equally. Morris presents a staggering wealth of information, crafting a remarkable narrative with incredible scope and sociological detail. Morris provides incredibly vivid vignettes of his protagonists: Shaka, Cesthawayo, Colonel Durnford, Lord Chelmsford, France's Prince Imperial, etc. His digressive style allows for fascinating detours: discussion of Bishop Colens ...more
Natalie Maguire
A very detailed and definitive history of the Zulu war. It's an extraordinarily long and challenging read, but a valuable one for anyone interested in history, specifically of the Zulu's, and early Southern Africa. The details of Zulu customs and living, as well as the personal stories of those involved in the war, were personal highlights of the book, and what kept me reading this enormous story.
Sep 13, 2013 M rated it it was amazing
Wow. This is the only book you'll ever need on the rise and fall of the Zulu nation. Incredibly well researched and a very in depth review of both sides of the conflict, the events leading up to the clash of two civilizations, and the aftermath. Each individual who plays a part gets their own little biography explaining how they got to southern Africa and how they came who they were. So much focus on the bit players will occasionally make you feel like your missing the forest for the trees, but ...more
Aug 08, 2014 Jas rated it really liked it
Forgotten. I found this when I worked at the city library and had seen both Zulu movies, both of which have flaws, but the second of which is more historically accurate. The book is long but very informative. There is a wretched movie about Shaka that someone made in around 1990 that I would advise avoiding.
Alec Gray
Dec 17, 2015 Alec Gray rated it it was amazing
A classic book. While recent scholarship has modified some of Morris' work, published in 1965, this is a magnificent study of the Zulu nation, and its collision with the Dutch/British empires in the 19th century. I read this book in high school, and loved it then-a re-read was even more enjoyable.
Apr 02, 2011 mbattist rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel-africa
The Washing of the Spears is a dense, deliberate read, so if you plan to read this book, schedule it well in advance. It took me about 3 months to read The Washing of the Spears - every day 40 or 60 pages at a time, with an atlas of the continent in hand. The tribal cultures of African peoples, the inevitable conflict among native peoples for scarce resources and then between native peoples and colonials, the unstopable progression of colonialism throughout South Africa was hypnotic. I'm sure th ...more
Jun 06, 2015 Riley rated it liked it
I was very impressed by this book when I first read it in the 1970s. In recent years I spent a month traveling around South Africa, and read the excellent Frontiers by Noel Mostert, and South Africa: a narrative history by Frank Welsh. I recently reread The Washing of the Spears, about 40 years later, and found it tough going. There is too much background and detailed unneeded early biography of many people in the story, and complex geographical description, with more, and more detailed, maps so ...more
This book was up and down for me. The parts that were good, were very good. But I actually had to put it down a few times because the lulls(to me) dragged on. I will say that I learned a lot. Shaka Zulu was not at all the person I thought him to be. I thought he was a hero of sorts... Far from it. But there was a lot of subject matter I just had no interest in. All in all... If I cut about 150 pages (it's 600+ pages of actual text) outta the book, I would have enjoyed it more. But I can see how ...more
Michael Burkett
Jul 21, 2015 Michael Burkett rated it it was amazing
Could not be better. I have a copy in my personal library and have read it several times. When I taught college ROTC, I used to read extracts to the seniors in my classes.
Steve Switzer
Jan 14, 2016 Steve Switzer rated it really liked it
Shelves: colonial, c19
Great book probalbly the standard work on the Zulu war
Nuff said.... difficult to beat
If you are interested in the Zulu war read this
Kevin Vejrup
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 08, 2013 Tiffany rated it really liked it
I had to read this book for my African History class, so I expected it to be horrible and boring, but it is actually really interesting! Morris goes into a lot of detail, so the book is really long, but it is not difficult to read at all. Much of the book is written almost like a novel, with all of the interesting bits expounded on and the boring stuff briefly mentioned. This is not a book that you have to really be into history to enjoy, and you don't have to be a highly educated reader either ...more
Sam Fleming
It's almost impossible to review this book except to say that this is dense. This book packs in more information for the word count than any book I've read before or since. It sits somewhere in a heavy lump in the depths of my memory and lurches a bit every time "Zulu" comes on the TV.

As a history of the period, I can't imagine anything more thorough. This is not, however, light bedtime reading. I could only manage a bit at a time, then had to take a break to digest it before tackling the next s
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Born 11 November, 1924, to S. Fred and Vera D. Morris of New York City. Graduated Horace Mann School for Boys, 1942 and US Naval Academy, 1948. Active naval service from 1942 until 1956; retired as Lieutenant Commander. CIA field officer in Soviet counterespionage from 1956 until 1972 in Berlin, Paris, Kinshasa and Vietnam. Houston resident since 1972; Houston Post foreign affairs columnist from 1 ...more
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