Meredith, Martin 1942–
Meredith, Martin 1942–
Scholar, biographer, journalist, and writer. Foreign correspondent for London Observer and Sunday Times; research fellow at St. Antony's College, Oxford.
The Past Is Another Country: Rhodesia, 1890-1979, A. Deutsch (London, England), 1979, revised and expanded edition published as The Past Is Another Country: Rhodesia, UDI to Zimbabwe, Pan (London, England), 1980.
The First Dance of Freedom: Black Africa in the Postwar Era, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1984.
A Guide to South Africa's 1994 Election, Mandarin (London, England), 1994.
Nelson Mandela: A Biography, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Coming to Terms: South Africa's Search for Truth, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 1999.
Africa's Elephant: A Biography, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 2001, published as Elephant Destiny: Biography of an Endangered Species in Africa, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 2003.
Fischer's Choice: A Life of Bram Fischer, Jonathan Hall (Johannesburg, South Africa), 2002.
Our Votes, Our Guns: Robert Mugabe and the Tragedy of Zimbabwe, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 2002, published as Mugabe: Power and Plunder in Zimbabwe, Public Affairs (Oxford, England), 2002.
The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 2005.
Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 2007.
An expert on South African history and politics, Martin Meredith has authored numerous works on the postcolonial development of African nations, notably South Africa and Zimbabwe. He has also published biographies of anti-apartheid activists Nelson Mandela and Bram Fischer, as well as a study of the African elephant's plight as an endangered species. Meredith has spent much of his life in Africa, beginning as a foreign correspondent for the London Observer and the London Sunday Times, then as an Oxford University research fellow and independent scholar.
In The Past Is Another Country: Rhodesia, 1890-1979 Meredith recounts the history of Rhodesia from its late-nineteenth-century occupation by British speculators through its break from the commonwealth in 1965 and eventual liberation in 1979; Rhodesia was renamed Zimbabwe in 1980. "Although the title suggests that we are to be guided through the whole history of colonial Rhodesia," New Statesman contributor Roger Riddell noted, "only twenty-four pages out of 370 cover the first seventy years of colonial rule." Meredith places special emphasis on the political career of Ian Smith, the white-supremacist prime minister of colonial Rhodesia who led the nation's independence movement during the 1960s and 1970s. Though Riddell found shortcomings in Meredith's lack of analysis and narrow historical focus, Spectator contributor Robert Blake wrote that "Meredith traces this sorry story with clarity and detachment." Times Literary Supplement contributor J.E. Spence commended Meredith's "detailed account" of Smith's feud with the British government, adding that the author "deploys his journalistic skills to good effect" in describing key figures associated with the African National Congress. As Blake remarked: "The very recent past is always the part of history on which there is least information. Mr. Meredith … has admirably filled this gap as far as Zimbabwe-Rhodesia is concerned."
In The First Dance of Freedom: Black Africa in the Postwar Period, Meredith presents the history of post-colonial independence in sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on major events and key figures behind the liberation of each nation. "The value of Martin Meredith's The First Dance of Freedom is its scrupulous fair-mindedness as it places Africa's failings in context," wrote Blaine Harden in the Washington Post Book World. However, Edward A. Alpers noted in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that the author's emphasis on isolated events and individual leaders prevents "a more critical examination of the deeper historical dynamics and wider economic and political forces" that shaped postcolonial Africa. While commending Meredith's competent "encyclopedia-like chapters" on individual African nations, Harden cited similar shortcomings in the book's lack of analytical depth, remarking that The First Dance of Freedom reads like "a dry nation-by-nation recitation of post-colonial history in black Africa."
In the Name of Apartheid: South Africa in the Postwar Period documents the history of official racial segregation in South Africa from the rise of the Afrikaner Nationalist party in 1948 through the 1980s. Meredith describes how the Afrikaner Nationalist party institutionalized apartheid, and how black South Africans resisted white domination. Commenting on the work in the New York Review of Books, George M. Fredrickson approved of Meredith's objectivity and described In the Name of Apartheid as "a perceptive and readable popular history of South Africa since 1948." Los Angeles Times commentator Martin Rubin similarly appreciated Meredith's even-handed perspective as "a dispassionate observer" and commended his account as "clear, cogent, and accurate." According to New York Times contributor Christopher S. Wren, "anyone who wants to understand how South Africans, white as well as black, have been scarred by apartheid will find reasons persuasively presented in [this] compelling, if disturbing, book."
Nelson Mandela: A Biography is an in-depth account of the anti-apartheid activist and celebrated South African statesman. Times Literary Supplement contributor Tom Lodge commended Meredith's judicious portrait of Mandela, which includes balanced coverage of the black activist's extraordinary career as well as his personal failings. According to Lodge, "Meredith's book is the first biography which seriously attempts to separate the man from the myth." America reviewer Sean Redding praised the work as an "extremely well-researched and readable biography," adding that "Meredith does an excellent job of depicting the life story of this remarkable person." However, Lodge noted that Mandela's disciplined public persona and Meredith's failure to move beyond public sources prevented the biography from offering new insight into Mandela's personality. Despite such criticism, Library Journal contributor Edward G. McCormack called the work "an invaluable resource."
In Coming to Terms: South Africa's Search for Truth, Meredith provides an account of the shameful human rights violations perpetrated against black South Africans under apartheid. Based largely upon the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the investigatory body charged with documenting such apartheid-era crimes, Meredith describes this dark and exceptionally violent chapter in that nation's history, including official police torture, assassinations, and anti-apartheid terrorism. Under the direction of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the TRC granted amnesty to self-confessed torturers and murderers in exchange for their testimony, a decision Meredith questions on moral grounds. However, such testimony, along with that of victims, average citizens, and former presidents Botha and de Klerk, permits the author to construct a well-rounded account of suffering and atrocity under apartheid. Commenting on Coming to Terms in the New York Times, critic Mary Ellen Sullivan commended Meredith's "thorough and impeccably reported account of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission."
Our Votes, Our Guns: Robert Mugabe and the Tragedy of Zimbabwe, published in England as Mugabe: Power and Plunder in Zimbabwe, focuses on Mugabe's heavy-headed leadership of Zimbabwe. During the early 1960s, Mugabe, a Marxist nationalist, helped found the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and spent a decade in jail as a political prisoner. He was released in 1975 and in 1980 became Zimbabwe's first prime minister. During the mid-1980s he moved to convert the nation's democratic government into a single-party socialist system with himself as its head. Phil England noted in the New Internationalist that Meredith's "highly readable" book "paints the now-familiar portrait of Mugabe as a power-crazy despot whose cronies have embezzled at the country's expense." However, as African Affairs contributor Stephen Chan observed, "despite the fluent, almost racey prose, Meredith's work seems very one-dimensional." While England faulted the work for its omissions, Chan wrote: "The book is a ‘good read’, but a frustrating one for those wanting greater explanatory power, or to use it as a starting point for their own investigations."
Africa's Elephant: A Biography, published in the United States as Elephant Destiny: Biography of an Endangered Species in Africa, represents a departure from Meredith's political histories. In this work he presents an account of the African elephant, including its history, biology, behavior, and, most significantly, its potential extinction as a result of ivory-trading poachers. Booklist contributor Nancy Bent commended Meredith's "succinct account" of the elephant's tragic relationship with humans and the author's "obvious affection for his subject." A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book "a solid introduction to the world of elephants."
In his 2005 book, The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, Meredith explores the myriad problems that Africa has faced in the past fifty years and continues to face in the twenty-first century. Focusing on the key personalities, events, and themes of the independence era, the history chronicles how Africa went from enormous hope and fervor to a continent beset by civil wars, starvation, strong-armed rulers, and genocide. Following the development of dozens of new states, the author details how Africa's newly elected leaders delved into the problems of development and nation building and then, because of the continent's vast riches, garnered the attention of the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He explores the various reasons why so many African nations failed to fulfill their early promise and became places of disease, death and devastation due to despotism, corruption, and natural phenomena such as epic droughts, in the span of just two generations.
"Africa's demise has many causes," the author noted on a Washingtonpost.com Web site online discussion forum. "Almost all African countries are artificial states constructed by European governments during the Scramble for Africa at the end of the nineteenth century." The author also points to the Cold War, which he says precipitated wars throughout Africa. "But the principal cause of Africa's demise is the failure of its leaders to provide effective government," the author ultimately noted in the discussion forum.
Commenting that The Fate of Africa "consistently grabs and holds your attention," Weekly Standard contributor Roger Bate wrote: "This is, probably, a magnificent achievement. From Cairo to Cape Town, from Dakar to Djibouti, Meredith understands what is important and what the reader will want to learn." Jay Freeman, writing in Booklist, commented: "This is a brilliant and vitally important work for all who wish to understand Africa and its beleaguered people."
In Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa, the author takes the reader from the time when Southern Africa was seen as a relatively worthless and troublesome group of British colonies, Boer republics, and African chiefdoms to the eventual discovery of diamonds and gold and the titanic struggle that followed between the British and the Boers for control of the land. "The story of how the discovery of diamonds and then of gold transformed the agrarian backwater of South Africa has been told many times before, but never with more vividness, clarity and verve than in the engrossing Diamonds, Gold, and War," wrote Martin Rubin in the Los Angeles Times.
Focusing on the great wealth and power, deceit, corruption, and racism that typified Great Britain's empire building in southern Africa over the period 1871-1910, the author details the costliest and bloodiest war that the British had waged for over a century. This war resulted in the destruction of the Boer republics. Another focus of the book is the intense rivalry between diamond mogul Cecil Rhodes (who created the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship) and the Boer leader Paul Kruger, who, despite being educated only in the Bible, was able to lead a Boer resistance to Britain's power for nearly twenty-five years.
"No stone is left unturned in this dynamic analysis of an intriguing period in African history," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Janet Maslin wrote in the New York Times: "Mr. Meredith's main accomplishment here is in providing a many-faceted, sensibly incisive overview of events that could easily be oversimplified, and have been in earlier accounts. Dismissing reductive ideas like the thesis that capitalism and imperialism collided to create a war that would benefit both, he shows how one misstep led to another, how fear yielded miscalculations, how national pride and arrogance created such poisonous conditions."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
African Affairs, April 1, 2003, Stephen Chan, review of Mugabe: Power and Plunder in Zimbabwe, pp.343-347.
Africa News Service, September 4, 2007, review of Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa.
America, January 2, 1999, Sean Redding, review of Nelson Mandela: A Biography, p. 596.
Atlantic, January-February, 2008, review of Diamonds, Gold, and War, p. 133.
Booklist, January 1, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Nelson Mandela, pp. 741-742; January 1, 2000, Rochman, review of Coming to Terms: South Africa's Search for Truth, p. 867; April 1, 2003, Nancy Bent, review of Elephant Destiny: Biography of an Endangered Species in Africa, p. 1362; July 1, 2005, Jay Freeman, review of The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, p. 1893.
First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, February, 2007, review of The Fate of Africa, p. 54.
Foreign Affairs, January-February, 2006, Nicholas Van De Walle, review of The Fate of Africa,; March-April, 2008, Nicholas Van De Walle, review of Diamonds, Gold, and War, p. 175.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2005, review of The Fate of Africa, p. 578; July 15, 2007, review of Diamonds, Gold, and War.
Library Journal, February 1, 1998, Edward G. McCormack, review of Nelson Mandela, p. 96; February 1, 2000, McCormack, review of Coming to Terms, p. 105; July 1, 2005, Jim Thorsen, review of The Fate of Africa, p. 100; September 15, 2007, Mary C. Allen, review of Diamonds, Gold, and War, p. 71.
Los Angeles Times, January 1, 2008, Martin Rubin, review of Diamonds, Gold, and War.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 28, 1985, Edward A. Alpers, review of The First Dance of Freedom: Black Africa in the Postwar Era, p. 11; October 30, 1988, Martin Rubin, review of In the Name of Apartheid: South Africa in the Postwar Period, p. 2.
New Internationalist, May, 2002, Phil England, review of Mugabe, pp. 31-32.
New Republic, March 18, 1985, Conor Cruise O'Brien, review of The First Dance of Freedom, pp. 31-35.
New Statesman, November 9, 1979, Roger Riddell, review of The Past Is Another Country: Rhodesia, 1890-1979, p. 724.
New Yorker, October 15, 2007, review of Diamonds, Gold, and War, p. 99.
New York Review of Books, October 26, 1989, George M. Fredrickson, review of In the Name of Apartheid, pp. 48-55.
New York Times, November 29, 2007, Janet Maslin, "A Scramble for Power and Treasure in South Africa," review of Diamonds, Gold, and War, p. 11.
New York Times Book Review, December 18, 1988, Christopher S. Wren, review of In the Name of Apartheid, p. 9; February 13, 2000, Mary Ellen Sullivan, review of Coming to Terms, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, January 12, 1998, review of Nelson Mandela, p. 54; November 29, 1989, review of Coming to Terms, p. 58; March 31, 2003, review of Elephant Destiny, pp. 53-54; May 16, 2005, review of The Fate of Africa, p. 52.
Spectator, November 3, 1979, Robert Blake, review of The Past Is Another Country, p. 20; November 3, 2007, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, "The Curse of Riches," review of Diamonds, Gold, and War, p. 75; December 15, 2007, Robert Salisbury, "How to Ruin a Country," review of Mugabe, p. 81.
Times Literary Supplement, February 8, 1980, J.E. Spence, review of The Past Is Another Country, p. 151; December 26, 1997, Tom Lodge, review of Nelson Mandela, p. 11.
Washington Post, January 20, 2006, Martin Meredith, review of The Fate of Africa.
Washington Post Book World, March 3, 1985, Blaine Harden, review of The First Dance of Freedom, p. 11.
Weekly Standard, October 3, 2005, Roger Bate "Africa Betrayed: Tyrants Are the Continent's Principal Natural Resource," review of The Fate of Africa, p. 42.
Washingtonpost.com,http://www.washingtonpost.com/ (January 20, 2006), "The Fate of Africa: A Survey of Fifty Years of Independence" (Web discussion posting with author).