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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

4.28 of 5 stars 4.28  ·  rating details  ·  465 ratings  ·  42 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 (1787–1828), through its inevitable collision with white expansionism, to its disso
Paperback, 655 pages
Published August 22nd 1998 by Da Capo Press (first published January 1965)
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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
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
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
'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
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
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
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
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
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.
You can't understand modern Africa if you haven't read this book. On top of it's historical value it's written so well you'll be reading all night.
Stephen Hughes
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.
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
Jeni Enjaian
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Christopher Saunders
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
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
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.
Ashland Mystery Oregon
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
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
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
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
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
Dec 16, 2007 Nocheevo rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: the thin red line
Shelves: history, war
A dense brick sized tome covering the history of the zulu nation, from cattle rearers to the military reforms of Shaka and expansion until the clash with Victorian England. Its a thorough story in small print detail that highlights that colonial wars often had just as interesting political triggers as the clash of European nations.

Stylistically this is an old school history book, full of names and facts without much flare which can make some sections cumbersome if the reader isn't in the mood.
Feb 18, 2008 Michael rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs
As the title says, describes how Shaka forged a nation out of the soup of Bantu tribes in Southern Africa.

Great descriptions of the catastrophic battle of Isandlwana and the defense Rourke's Drift. In the former, 20,000 Zulus overwhelmed a British force of about 550 regulars and the same number of native and European levies. In the latter, 139 British soldiers held off 4-5000 Zulu warriors.

Well-written but covers several decades and one sometimes loses track of who is who.
One of the best accounts of European Imperialism in Africa. Along with "King Leopold's Ghost", it exposes how disastrous the ideal of Social Darwinism was on the treatment of native Africans. Morris's account describes in detail all sides of the events in the history of the Zulu nation. Historically well researched, the story flows with fascinating personalities and riveting descriptions of conflicts and dilemmas. A must read for African and military historians.
Christa Lindsay
Love the book and all the information about my country's early history! BUT there is one small thing about the Author! He does not know a thing about the early life of the Boer! It is because he is an American writing about our history!!!!!He refer to the early life of the Boer as "die lekker lewe" and what it mean is an "easy life"! He does not know what he is talking about! I wonder if he is still alive and would like to tell him myself.
This is the best account of the rise and fall of the Zulu nation. This is the account of how the Zulu nation become the most feared in Africa under Shaka. It fell to ruin under Cetshwayo during the war with England in 1879. A well written book has not aged. The favorite standard that all accounts have been compared to since it was published. It's is on my list of 10 best historical novels.
Great read about how the British, Boers, and Zulus got embroiled in a war that would change South Africa forever. Great great, decent blend of military history and political history, told from all points of view. That being said, the book was written in the 1960s so some of the slant is not exactly 2000s politically correct.
David Smith
Also read long ago - another of my favourite South African history books - should be required reading in schools.
Wow. What can I say. My father told me about this book when I was in 8th grade. I loved the movie Zulu Dawn that he had showed me and wanted to know more. Well this book told me everything. Usually history books aren't the best "page turners". This one is. Still my favorite book of all time. Thanks Dad!
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Reader's Digest Condensed Books, Autumn 1957, Volume #31

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