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Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  975 ratings  ·  89 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 ...more
Hardcover, 570 pages
Published October 1st 2007 by PublicAffairs (first published January 1st 2007)
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Jul 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Apt Title of the Year! Gold on the Cape & Diamonds in the Transvaal & that's all there really is to the British annexation of the Boer republics.

Not that Kruger was adverse to mining and industry... He & Cecil Rhodes serve as a red thread rivalry in a series of events that will be mostly familiar to military historians via the trinity of Zulu War, Majuba, (2nd) Boer War. The British come off as damned if they do, damned if they don't:

" Wolseley assumed that such a demonstration of
Jul 22, 2015 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
Aug 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
I thought it might be a boer, but it was pretty good
May 09, 2013 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
Jeff Johnson
Nov 20, 2014 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
Oct 16, 2009 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.
R. Kannan
Aug 21, 2012 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 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 ...more
Martin Budd
May 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is the first book I have read by MM. I have already purchased my next, his writing is clear and flows easily, the content is consistently engaging and informative. If this book was food it would be a rich hearty casserole served up on a winter's day. Highly recommended.
Jul 09, 2014 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
Keenan Johnston
Aug 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While dense, this is a great book for the basics of South Africas rich history. The book begins with the colonization of South Africa by the British during the Napoleonic wars for naval reasons, setting the stage for the further exodus of the white, indigenous Afrikaner population into inland Africa. However, the bulk of the book covers the period from 1870 1910 encompassing how Diamond and Gold deposit discoveries led to the Boer Wars and saddening tensions between the British (Cecil Rhodes) ...more
May 13, 2015 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
Feb 23, 2015 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
Jul 24, 2011 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.
Apr 17, 2009 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.
Dec 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting history of- mostly - Cecil Rhodes, the formation of South Africa, the Boer war, etc. Warning - it is long and though interesting was hard to get through. I think I've been reading it for 3 months.
Mar 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
A read about the making of South Africa from the time of British occupation in 1806 to the presnt.
Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma
Diamonds, Gold, and War was written by Martin Meredith. The title reflects or depicts the African continent. It is rich but the inhabitants have never enjoyed their wealth. Continuous strife and political onstability have hampered growth, peace, and development in black Africa. Massive corruption which is always geared towards the acquisition of our natural resources has contributed to ma jor conflicts within our boundaries. Was it like that in the past? Here we look at South Africa during the ...more
Timothy De wet
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating read describing the political machinations that lead to the establishment of the Union of South Africa. As a Capetonian, this (generally awful) history is woven into the names of our Streets and Suburbs. As a South African, it established the structure that went on to impose one of the world's greatest human rights abuses. It's a history that still impacts us, more than a century later, and it's worth understanding.
John Cass
Apr 20, 2010 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,
Jun 02, 2015 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 wasnt 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 ...more
Jul 20, 2015 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 ...more
Nov 27, 2011 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
Aug 16, 2012 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 ...more
Apr 25, 2013 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
Tony Maxwell
Sep 01, 2012 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
Mar 01, 2013 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
Mar 17, 2012 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.
Feb 03, 2015 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.
May 23, 2011 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.
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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 Antonys College, Oxford. Residing near Oxford, he is now an independent commentator and author.

Merediths writing has been described as authoritative and well-documented,

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