Mandela: The Authorized Biography

Anthony Sampson, Author Alfred A. Knopf $30 (720p) ISBN 978-0-375-40019-3
Perhaps no living historical figure, with the possible exception of Pope John Paul II, enjoys the worldwide honor and affection accorded Nelson Mandela. All the more remarkable, then, that Sampson, who first met Mandela in 1951, succeeds at the formidable task of writing a multifaceted portrait of Mandela as viewed through his interactions with the widest imaginable array of people, from heads of state to brutal, near-illiterate prison guards. ""The prison years are often portrayed as a long hiatus in the midst of Mandela's political career,"" Sampson writes, ""but I see them as the key to his development, transforming the headstrong activist into the reflective and self-disciplined world statesman."" As Sampson sees it, this transformation was one in a series as Mandela evolved from favorite son of a minor chief to protectee of the tribal Regent, from an aristocrat accustomed to deference to a hard-working student in a missionary school meritocracy, from country boy to urban lawyer, from tribal-identified youth to committed multiracialist. Sampson makes much of Mandela's gift for befriending enemies, a gift that led to Mandela's role in South Africa's national reconciliation. Sampson notes, however, that the social and economic transformation Mandela saw as reconciliation's necessary corollary has yet to come to fruition. More than a comforting story of moral heroism, Sampson offers a gritty tale of a struggle unfinished. He manages to give readers a flawed, flesh-and-blood Mandela who is infinitely more interesting--and more admirable for being real--than the myth. 24 pages of photos; maps not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/02/1999
Release date: 08/01/1999
Paperback - 736 pages - 978-0-679-78178-3
Paperback - 704 pages - 978-0-00-638845-6
Prebound-Sewn - 978-0-606-21848-1
Open Ebook - 595 pages - 978-0-307-81402-9
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