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A History of South Africa
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A History of South Africa

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  543 Ratings  ·  53 Reviews
An exploration of the history of South Africa, from the earliest known human inhabitation of the region to the end of the 20th century. For this third edition, the author adds two new chapters on the transfer of power and South Africa under the presidencies of Mandela and Mbeki.
Paperback, Third Edition, 416 pages
Published February 8th 2001 by Yale University Press (first published 1990)
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Oct 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reread, history
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Leslie Street
Jun 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this book when I traveled to South Africa, and it was excellent. It gave me so much information, that everything about my visit was enhanced. I highly recommend it, in spite of what some people might consider a textbook-like flow.
Eric Bridges
Oct 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
3 1/2 stars. The book was overflowing with facts and all the key events that lead up to South Africa as it is today: spanning from the earliest inhabitants to the presidential term of Thabo Mbeki. The reason I didn't give this book four stars is not the information per se, but more so the way the information was presented. In short, good content, poor execution. Although the book is set up in a generally chronological order, the author constantly jumps around when discussing specific dates. The ...more
Otto Silver
May 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Finishing school before the first all inclusive election means i was mostly taught the propaganda Afrikaner history. I knew nothing of how non-white peoples were treated by mu forefathers. I never even realised i attended school while the country around me was on the brink of civil war.

Im sure the book could have been improved, and the conclusion/ ending was very abrupt, but I still learned more about my country and where the sometimes apparent hatred foe my skin colour and language comes from i
Dec 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book while I was traveling through South Africa, and it definitely added a lot of depth to my understanding of the country as I visited it.

As should be expected given the vast expanse of information this book tries to cover, Thompson’s writing is very dense and information-packed. As he notes on his first page, Thompson tries to portray the country’s full history, from a description of the lifestyles and cultures of the country’s pre-colonial inhabitants, to its multicultural mo
Feb 20, 2011 rated it liked it
This is the history of South Africa, from the late 1500s until about 2000, and the bulk of the book is the 20th century. It describes a little about the native South Africans before settlers arrived, then goes through the story of the Dutch taking over, then the British, how apartheid began, what it meant for the various ethnic groups, and ultimately how apartheid ended. Nelson Mandela has a prominent place throughout most of the last 1/4 of the book.

I am a very infrequent reader of straight-up
Feb 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this book for a trip to South Africa I took for a consulting assignment. This book covers South African history from the time of the hunters/gatherers that existed before any outside influences through to post-apartheid. It was well written and enjoyable to read while at the same time highly informative. It really helped me gain a much better understanding of South Africa's history and why things are the way they are today. While much of South Africa feels like a European country with a t ...more
Jul 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
A wonderful and succinct history of South Africa, especially for those not from the country who want to learn more about the fascinating history of the area. The book covers everything from the time of the native African tribes who called the land home first to the colonization by the Dutch and British to the modern post-apartheid era (up to the year 2000). The one area that I had trouble following was the beginning with all the various African tribes, which I knew nothing about before. The book ...more
Jacob Lines
Dec 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
I must confess - I only read half of the book. I started in the middle because I wanted to learn about how apartheid came about and how it ended. The second half of this book was very good. It is concise, even compressed. The book aims to tell the story of South Africa in one volume, so it has to be. I had just read a couple of really great books by Albie Sachs, so I wanted to learn the bigger picture. This book does a good job of showing the big picture. Perfect for the beginner to South Africa ...more
Apr 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Very helpful overview of South Africa's history
Holly Tarver
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book was very deatailed and helpful for if you are researching the topic. Also, I found it organized in a way that such large amounts of information can be easily understood in a logical way.
Jan 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Read this book to get some background on South Africa ahead of a trip we were doing. This gave a great background to the country and was relatively easy to read.
A couple of notes:
- It's more focused on 1902 onward with a relatively cursory overview of the colonial period (not more detail than I've read before as part of general introduction to African history)
- Quite revealing in terms of history of segregation, apartheid, and New South Africa. Gave me a new appreciation of the uniqueness of th
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
a cautionary tale to which no one is listening
Nujumu Fattah
Dec 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
always real
Ivan Lee
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is succinct for me to understand the long history about SA.
There was a thing in the paper about Breaker Morant, which got me reading about the Boer War/South African War (I'm sorry, I've grown up with it being the "Boer War". I'm a girl guide. I suspect it will always be the Boer War to me.) Which reminded me that I had this book on my shelves.

In the last two days I've read from the South African War to where the book ends in 1995. I certainly plan to go back and read from the beginning through to 1900 sooner rather than later.

I'm more keen now than ev
Jun 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent overview of the history that has shaped this complex nation. Any of the chapters, and even the subsections, deserve their own book. Nevertheless I now have a good general understanding of the country.

As an afterthought: The final chapter added for the fourth edition and written by Lynn Berat had a much more negative tone than the rest of the book. Though there is much to criticize about the current Zuma administration, Berat seemed to use this as a platform to espouse her political
Fatima Beg
Nov 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone who needs a short, readable and thorough introduction to South African history
This book gives a great overview: from the Khoi and the San, the first peoples living in South Africa thousands of years ago, to Thabo Mbeki's governement. It gives a fair account - as far as I can judge without having been to South Africa - of White and Black fears, expectations and internal dynamics.

It is as detailed as a any book on the complete history of a country can be on such few pages and it doesn't expect the reader to have any knowledge of South Africa beforehand.

A very good introduct
Apr 05, 2013 added it
Shelves: 2012-2013
The book A History Of South Africa by Leonard Thompson is a very good and fascinating book, it explains in vivid detail the whole entire history of South Africa whether it is the Neolithic period or the Present daytime. I can say that I learned a lot from this book like that Nazi Germany occupied South Africa during WW2 and a little bit afterwards, I believe that this book should be read by any history lover and any one who is trying to obtain knowledge about South Africa should read this book.
Sep 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
this was a great book in that it was not a history written from an imperialist perspective. it begins with pre-colonial times and the major people groups living in the region and how they lived. it takes the major events, climates, and changes through apartheid and into the beginning of the 21st century.

there is so much jacked up stuff in this book, if you read it and don't get pissed off or at least feel the pain than somebody should check your pulse.
Aug 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People who are really interested in South Africa
I learned quite a lot about South Africa from this book, from ancient to modern history. I will admit that it could not have kept my attention if I hadn't been planning to live in the country for several months. But it did help to explain the different ethnic groups within the country, which made a huge difference in my reaction to the country.
Apr 25, 2016 rated it liked it
Very readable, is the first thing that comes to mind. Of course, one wouldn't want to try and remember all facts, but they help to convey the complexities in South Africa's history.

It even got a little suspenseful at the end, even though I knew how it would end!
And sure it helps that South Africa's history is interesting.

Recommended to everyone who wants to learn about South Africa!
Donna Davis
Complex and scholarly, this volume fills a need that was left empty far too long. I found it well documented and interesting, but it is not written as a narrative and requires some effort to plow through. Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom is an alternative or additional source of information the reader may consider. For the serious student of South Africa, I recommend both.
Nov 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic. He's really mastered the art of what to include (and what to summarize) in a history book. By removing a lot of the florid details that burden other history books, you get an amazing overview and summary of the country's history and challenges going forward.
Jun 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
A concise yet thorough look at the history of South Africa. While it definitely reads like a history textbook, Thompson makes a concerted effort to present all sides of many tense and violent issues with sensitivity. A great foundation in historical context for more specified research.
Jan 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Had to read this for class, but would recommend it for anyone going to South Africa. The first half is confusing but I really enjoyed the second half. It was definitely a more fair representation of the history than most history books.
Thomas Hm
Really interesting book to read for anyone planning to go on a trip to South Africa. I bought it over there and could not get my hands off it during my stay there. Very insightful and helpful to understand the roots of SA's modern-day issues!
Jun 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
everything you need to know about South Africa. here you go. It reads kind of history-bookish, hence the title, lol. But it's a great country with a rich history definitely worth learning about. I was assigned the book before visiting the country for 3 weeks.
Jun 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of this fascinating country. I am preparing to travel there and after reading this, I feel ready to appreciate and experience the country.
Aug 23, 2007 rated it liked it
Not an engrossing read, but chock full of important and relevant information about South Africa. I would suggest it as background knowledge for a study/project/another book on South Africa.
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