Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Boer War by Thomas Pakenham #review

Title: The Boer War
Author: Thomas Pakenham
Publisher: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 1993

Granted, I started reading this book because I wanted a better idea of the Anglo Boer War for my Afrikaans module during my first level at Unisa for my BA, so this was pretty much supplementary reading – which means I was more consistent about finishing what I started. Plainly put, The Boer War by Thomas Pakenham (which is apparently considered a “go to” for the subject) is very, very dry. And that’s putting it mildly.

Informative, yes, but I had to do my reading in bursts.

That Pakenham did his research is clear, because he’s sifted through a daunting pile of primary sources to put together a fine tome that definitely succeeds in giving me a better idea of the entire debacle. Also, I feel that he succeeds in a degree of objectivity on such a contentious topic because when it comes to exposing the foibles of those involved in the conflict, he doesn’t pick sides. Both the British and the Boers are revealed as perpetrators (and most certainly not very nice people), and both sides have their heroes and villains, depending the perspective of the viewer.

Pakenham also examines the outcomes of the war, and it’s incredibly high cost in lives and material possessions; South Africa’s indigenous populations suffered the most. If one has to look from where the roots of the later oppressive apartheid system grew, they clearly lay deeply entrenched in this time, especially in the attitudes shared by colonial powers in Africa. Thank you, Rhodes, Kruger. You’re both scoundrels, and not the nice kind of scoundrel either (like Han Solo).

As an overview, I feel this book is a good starting point, but as stated earlier, I simply didn’t gel with Pakenham, who failed to engage me. What made reading this bearable is that I have an illustrated hardcover edition that had many wonderful images (yay for pictures) – but if and when I do decide to read further on the topic, I’d like to find an author whose writing style doesn’t make me unintentionally skip pages.

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