Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Book I Read In October

'Zulu Rising: The Epic Story of iSandlwana and Rorke's Drift' by Ian Knight 
This book was brought back from Durban as a gift for me, apt given that it features the KwaZulu/Natal region of South Africa where Durban sits.  This is the best history book I have read since 'The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich' by Callum MacDonald (1990) which I read in 2011.  Knight takes a very complex situation looking at the background and then the events of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879-80 and makes them enthralling.  After reading the first 25 pages of over 700 in the book, I realised I had already learnt an immense amount, and yet it was written in a way that was as engaging as a good novel.  There is a great deal of detail and learning the Zulu names can be a challenge.  However, by both looking from the strategic level and getting down to the story of individuals on all sides of the conflict you are really drawn into it.  You learn about the complexity of Zulu politics and culture; the rise and fall of various tribes and their rulers.  You see the detail of British imperial policy from London and the local initiatives taken by politicians and commanders in southern Africa.  You see the experience of the massacre and receive a balanced view of how the British could have made such grave errors. It also puts in context the inaccuracies of the movie portrayals 'Zulu Dawn' (1979) about iSandlwana and 'Zulu' (1964) about Rorke's Drift; in the latter not least that the bulk of the battle took place at night rather than during the day and with heavy rain rather than glorious sunshine; plus very fewer of the defenders were Welsh. This is a very dense book, jammed full of information, but you are carried along by the writing until you are surprised by how much you have got through and how much new you have learnt.  I certainly wish I could write as well as Knight.  This is an excellent book that I am thoroughly delighted to recommend you read.

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