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South Africa 2018 Reading List

Princeton ’69 South Africa Mini-Reunion
Suggested Reading List

In response to several requests, Sue and Steve have put together this suggested reading list for those wanting to get to know a bit more about South Africa before traveling. This list is by no means comprehensive or mandatory, but sampling it will offer a varied introduction to the colorful and complex history and culture of South Africa.


A History of South Africa (4th Edition), Leonard Thompson
A one volume comprehensive and balanced history of South Africa by now deceased Yale professor, updated to 2012.

Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela’s informative and moving autobiography.

Diamonds, Gold and War, Martin Meredith
The very readable history of the discovery of gold and diamonds and the rush for conquest it incited, leading to the Anglo-Boer War and ending with the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.

My Traitor’s Heart, Rian Malan
An exploration of the horrors of apartheid by a descendent of its primary architect, and the author’s attempt to come to some peace with that history.

The Mind of South Africa, Allister Sparks
Written by the former editor of the Rand Daily Mail, the story of what led to the rise and eventual collapse of apartheid.

Tomorrow is Another Country, Allister Sparks
An accounting of the step-by-step negotiations that resulted in the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid.

God, Spies and Lies, John Matisonn
An inside view written by our trip’s intellectual leader of the path to the New South Africa, the great promise of 1994, where things have gone wrong since, and what can be done to re-right the ship of state, with a special emphasis on the power of a free press.

Born a Crime, Trevor Noah
The funny, insightful memoir by the new host of The Daily Show of his upbringing in Cape Town, the son of a Swiss father and a Xhosa mother, when love across the color bar was illegal.

Hero of the Empire, Candice Millard
The entertaining story of Winston Churchill’s daring and unlikely escape from a Boer prisoner of war camp during the Boer War, when he was trying to establish himself as a war hero to further his own political aspirations.


Ramaphosa: The man who would be king, Ray Hartley

For those interested in current day South African politics, an informative just-published political biography of the man elected last month (Dec 2017) as the new President of the ANC and most likely to be the next President of the country, possibly even forcing Jacob Zuma to step down before his term expires in 2019.


Heartbreaker: Christiaan Barnard and the first heart transplant, James-Brent Styan

Published to coincide with last month's 50th anniversary of the ground-breaking first heart transplant, this is the compelling story of the race to be first, that the "world darling" Barnard became, but how he also became anathema to many of his fellow Afrikaners because of his opposition to apartheid.  (We will be visiting the Heart of Cape Town Museum at Groote Schuur Hospital, complete with a mock-up of the original operating theatre.)



The Covenant, James Michener
A prodigious undertaking at over 1100 pages, but a great way to be introduced to all the various strains of South African history in a fictionalized format.

The Story of an African Farm, Olive Schreiner
Ascribed to be the first great South African novel, written by one of South Africa’s most interesting late 19th century personages, intimate friend and later antagonist of Cecil John Rhodes, the novel explores many themes, including religion, colonialism, free-thinking, and feminism.

Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton
Still one of the most beautiful novels we have ever read, it is South Africa’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

Mafeking Road, Herman Charles Bosman
Quintessentially South African, this is a collection of humorous but poignant stories told by Oom Schalk Lourens, in the manner of a Mark Twain or Garrison Keillor. Highly entertaining.

The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay
Set in World War II South Africa, this is a heart-warming and life-reaffirming coming of age story of a young boy surmounting the challenges of Nazism, racial strife, and being on his own in the world.

Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee
The most compelling of the Nobel Laureate’s South African novels, the story moves from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape and is unrelenting in its brutal honesty.

The Heart of Redness, Jakes Mda
Partly historical fiction, this novel tells the story of the infamous 19th century prophesy of the young Xhosa girl Nonqawase that led to the cattle killing that nearly decimated her people, and intertwines it with a 20th century dilemma faced by her people’s descendants.

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