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Diamonds, Gold, and War: The Making of South Africa

3.94  ·  Rating Details  ·  575 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
Southern Africa was once regarded as a worthless jumble of British colonies, Boer republics, and African chiefdoms, a troublesome region of little interest to the outside world. But then prospectors chanced first upon the world's richest deposits of diamonds, and then upon its richest deposits of gold. What followed was a titanic struggle between the British and the Boers
Hardcover, 570 pages
Published October 1st 2007 by PublicAffairs (first published January 1st 2007)
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Jan 15, 2012 Garth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
A tale of rapine dressed up as imperial British patriotism.
I grew up with the impression that Cecil John Rhodes was a somewhat dubious character, but this book corrected me - he was actually appalling.
A must-read for anyone who believes corruption is something the ANC government introduced into South Africa, Rhodes' ability to buy politicians (who arguably are always for sale anyway, but you just need to find their price) is surpassed by his ability to buy journalists, editors and churchmen.
Aug 01, 2011 Jon rated it really liked it
I thought it might be a boer, but it was pretty good
Aug 14, 2015 Grafakos rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Let us admit it fairly, as a business people should,
We have had no end of a lesson: it will do us no end of good.

-- Rudyard Kipling, on the Boer War

The British Empire was at the height of its arrogance in the late 1800s, but hardly at the height of its competence, if we judge its disastrous performance in South Africa.

Consider the evidence:

After invading the Zulu territory with no real justification, the British military failed to construct even the most rudimentary defense of its key encampment
Mar 03, 2013 Raja rated it really liked it
I started reading this book because I realized I knew little about the history of South Africa, a multicultural nation which struck me as perhaps being a microcosm of the world -- a wealthy minority among a largely impoverished majority, in a land blessed with natural resources but at the same time resource limited. The Boers also struck me as a tragic people who seemed really tough and certainly gave the British Empire at the absolute zenith of her power a bloody nose.

The story so far is really
Leslie Street
May 25, 2011 Leslie Street rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book this past weekend. It is lengthy, over 500 pages, but I couldn't put it down. I have a pretty good knowledge of the colonail history of East Africa, but this read taught me so much about colonial Southern Africa. Prior tor eading this book, I was under the mistaken impression that it was primarily the Boer/Afrikaner population who were responsible for apartheid policies, but it turns out the British were the bad guys too. I never knew so much about Cecil Rhodes, beyond that he w ...more
Jeff Johnson
Feb 09, 2015 Jeff Johnson rated it really liked it
This book is too well written and researched to give it anything less than 4 stars. However, I do have one complaint, and that is that the book devotes relatively little space to a discussion of black South Africans.

I understand that this book focuses on the "making" of South Africa, and the construct of South Africa as we know it descends from European colonies, and therefore, none of the extensive discussion of the founding of the four colonies that later formed the Union of South Africa stri
Jul 20, 2015 Evan rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I don't know what led me to purchase this book, but it turned out to be a fascinating read. This book focused on the time in South Africa prior to the introduction to Apartheid. It tells the history of the Boers, the British and how the discovery of diamonds, and the gold, changed the country forever. Cecil Rhodes comes off as a power seeker, shifting which ever way the political wind was blowing. It is also amazing what politicians could get away with before radio, tv and the internet. Paul Kru ...more
Jul 09, 2014 Bob rated it really liked it
This is an outstanding book which tells the story of South Africa from the 19th century up to the mid 20th century. Most of the book focuses on the two men: Cecil Rhodes and Paul Kruger. Rhodes was a diamond and gold mining entrepreneur who later became prime minister of the Cape Colony. Kruger was the president of the Transvaal Republic of the Boars. The Boars were Dutch settlers who were mainly farmers.

Both the Boars and the English were oppressive to the native tribes of Africa and took adva
May 19, 2015 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this to learn about the (Second) Boer War, but ended up learning about the broader political history of South Africa. There was some on the war--just five chapters near the end of a 47 chapter book. So I heard about the Boers' early strikes into the Natal and Cape Colony, the sieges that seemed so promising for them but became the undoing of their "conventional" military campaign. Then the British success that was hampered by continued Boer guerrilla warfare until exhaustion/collapse. I ...more
Apr 17, 2009 Tony rated it it was amazing
Wonderful history of South Africa. You will never look at a Rhodes Scholar the same way again.

What an incredibly racist man Mr. Rhodes was. I found this very compelling since I spent most of my college years protesting against apartheid.
Feb 23, 2015 Jen rated it really liked it
I listened to the audiobook version during and after my first trip to South Africa so I had a good sense of the geography. Without a map in your mind it can get confusing to follow. This is mostly the Cecil Rhodes story, but touches on many other "great" white men that shaped the politics that ultimately led to Apartheid. This is a white South African history with references to black leaders and tribes sporadically through the book. Probably the best way to get a feel for how these men perceived ...more
Ben Linzy
Despite its size and lack of footnotes, this is a good introduction to the imperial struggles in South Africa during the nineteenth century. While its sparse inclusion of indigenous sources and old school reliance on big man history was shocking, the authors prose style made getting through the massive book a breeze. The casting of Anglo-Boer rivalry against the backdrop of the mineral revolution is a strength, and the plethora of information contained in the book gives plenty of jumping off poi ...more
Feb 21, 2016 Nyna rated it really liked it
In one of the obituaries for my grandfather, it mentioned that he had either fought in or reported on four different wars – one of them being the Boer War. When that war ended, my grandfather was only 18, so he probably wasn’t there for its entirety. I knew nothing about the causes of the war, so I bought this book, "Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa." Amazon has some readers that claim that this book is dry, one going so far as to say it was like “p ...more
May 26, 2012 Richard rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
The first thing I learned from this book is that I knew just about nothing about 19th Century South Africa. I had heard of Cecil Rhodes, and I knew a little about the Boer War, but thee was so much else that I was completely unfamiliar with. (I had never even heard of Paul Kruger, for example.) So reading Diamonds, Gold, and War introduced me to a lot of people and places, and it got awfully confusing at times. It's hard to say whether or not I would have been more absorbed in the book if it was ...more
John Cass
May 17, 2011 John Cass rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
Similar in approach, this book explores the history of South Africa in a way that reminds one of Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel".

Starting in 1870 around the time diamonds were first discovered near Kimberly, the book initially focuses on Cecil Rhodes, who realized early on that the best way to make money out of the diamond industry was to establish a monopoly. He wasted no time in going about buying up all of the smaller mines to form De Beers (still the dominant, privately owned, diamon
May 09, 2013 Louise rated it it was amazing
Shelves: africa
Very few histories of this depth and detail can sustain 500+ pages and keep the reader as engaged as though s/he were reading a thriller. This book is one of them.

Some of Martin Meredith's talent is in describing the main characters. Portraits of Cecil Rhodes and Paul Kruger are masterpieces. His other talent is describing the settings for instance, the respective cultures of the settlers, the freewheeling diamond/gold rushes and the devastation of war. The marvelous descriptions sustain the rea
Feb 03, 2015 John rated it it was amazing
Meredith tells the story of the tumultuous time in South African history. The story moves a break-neck speed as he masterfully distills the essential facts and provides delicious detail about the larger-than-life characters. The book never loses momentum - the incredible story of the Kimberley diamonds and the Johannesburg gold reefs just gathers pace - even for a South African with a good knowledge of my country's history.
Oct 07, 2014 Tom rated it it was amazing
Meredith's work will attract anyone interested in South Africa and its violent, complex history. Race, culture, religion and greed are a potent mixture and have often marred this complicated, beautiful country. Highly readable and yet full of careful scholarship and detail. Brilliant.
Aug 16, 2012 Andrew rated it really liked it
Excellent read and a well-done history of the founding of South Africa. Plenty of interesting characters played various roles in the development of South Africa from a sleepy post on the tip of the continent to what could be called the top prize in the colonial battles of the late 1800s. Very interesting mix between the economic history of the region and the political/military history of the conflict between the British and the Boers/Dutch. The legendary Cecil Rhodes is the dominant figure throu ...more
Aug 12, 2014 Austin rated it really liked it
A very readable history of the period leading up to Apartheid South Africa. Covers the discovery of diamonds and gold in SA, the colonial British presence, Cecil Rhodes, the Afrikaner republics, and famous native African leaders like Shaka Zulu.
Tony Maxwell
Sep 01, 2012 Tony Maxwell rated it it was amazing
This well researched book provides a detailed look at the discovery of gold and diamonds in South Africa and the consequences visited upon that unhappy country.
It demonstrates how, over a century ago, a powerful nation could so easily come up with largely spurious reasons to invade a small country and secure access to the richest goldfields in the world. As it turned out, they bit off a lot more than they could chew. Also, they could not find any weapons of mass destruction!

Martin Meredith has w
Apr 25, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it
Excellent historical account of the formation of 20th Century South Africa. Gripping narrative of the colonizing by the Dutch, their decline and the coming of the British. Then we follow as Britain bumbles through its own colonization practices until diamonds and then gold are discovered in the country's heartland. Cecil Rhodes arrives on the scene and does his thing, and Meredith deftly describes the growth of the Boer-British rivalry and eventual decent into war. I found this book fascinating ...more
Apr 10, 2013 Jenny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are really, really, really interested in South Africa history, then this is an excellent book.

I read this book because I was interested in South Africa history, but I also wanted a book that is somewhat entertaining. It isn't entertaining at all. It reads mostly like a text book to me, very slow, parts terribly boring.

Also, this book focuses mainly on the struggle and warfare between the British and the Boers. It just ends at around the early 1900's, with little mentioning of the Aparthei
Apr 03, 2012 Matthew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, africa
The story of how South Africa came together in a blaze of corruption, double-dealing and brutal war, all centered around diamonds and gold, as well as British imperial ambitions in southern Africa. Like Meredith's other book, The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, this is not a book to read if you wish to feel warm and fuzzy about humanity.
May 23, 2011 Marlene rated it really liked it
This book was wonderful; a great history of South Africa and the Boer War (fight of ownership between the Brits, the Irish and Germans who lived there, and the local tribes, when gold and diamonds were discovered). One learns much about the native tribes and their culture; how nothing happens without the consent of the local tribe leader. Very eye-opening. Martin Meredith is a scholar of African History and writes right down the middle -- no spin either way.
John Dwyer
Sep 13, 2011 John Dwyer rated it liked it
Recommends it for: history
This is a really good book that covers the history of South Africa from the discovery of diamonds to the creation of the state in 1910. It's full of references and quotes from discussions and it well backed y plenty of other sources. I found that the book spent plenty of time discussing events that led to the Boer War but only discussed the war itself in a few pages.
Overall, I'd recommend the book.
Feb 25, 2008 Jenny rated it liked it
A recent offering from Africa expert Martin Meredith, this book provides a highly detailed account of the clashes between the Boers and the British in the late 19th century. Although it was more in-depth than what I was looking for, it did provide some good insights into the character of Paul Kruger and the "genius" of Cecil Rhodes (those of you who've seen my pictures will know why this is funny)...
Jonathan Sargent
Sep 10, 2015 Jonathan Sargent rated it really liked it

Jul 26, 2011 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very readable history of an incredibly complicated country. Meredith includes enough personal anecdotes from the main players (Rhodes, Kruger, et al) to keep the narrative flowing. Sheds much light on the overwhelming greed, incendiary jingoism, and tragic subjugation of the native Africans that have interwoven to create the fabric of this beautiful and troubled country.
Jan 25, 2009 Jrohde rated it really liked it
Half way through - a detailed history of Rhodes and his era - from the discovery of diamonds in Kimberly through his rapacious and unprincipled grasp for land and power. small wonder the English were hated by native tribes and the Boers.

More when I finish - well written and generally very informative, at least for those of us here.
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Martin Meredith is a historian, journalist and biographer, and author of many acclaimed books on Africa.

Meredith first worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa for the Observer and Sunday Times, then as a research fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford. Residing near Oxford, he is now an independent commentator and author.

Meredith’s writing has been described as authoritative and well-documented
More about Martin Meredith...

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