cover image

Publisher description for Mandela : the authorized biography / Anthony Sampson.


Bibliographic record and links to related information available from the Library of Congress catalog


Information from electronic data provided by the publisher. May be incomplete or contain other coding.


Counter The life of Nelson Mandela is one of the most extraordinary epics of the twentieth century. An almost-forgotten prisoner on Robben Island twenty years ago, apparently doomed to a helpless existence as a victim of apartheid, he not only survived but almost single-handedly saved South Africa from potential chaos, to become one of the most widely admired leaders in the world. Mandela's myth is dazzling; in this magnificent biography Anthony Sampson penetrates it to show us the man himself.

Sampson has known Mandela since 1951. He was given Mandela's complete cooperation, including access to twenty-seven years' worth of unpublished correspondence from prison and many other private documents--even the original draft of Mandela's prison autobiography, long thought to be lost. He interviewed virtually every significant living figure associated with Mandela, from childhood schoolmates to Mandela's ex-wife, Winnie, to former president F. W. de Klerk. Mandela himself checked and annotated the manuscript, but Sampson was left free to make his own judgments about the man, which he has done with refreshing candor. The result is wonderfully revealing and objective.

Mandela is filled with new insights and information. We see how prison, which he and his fellow inmates turned into a kind of unofficial university, gradually transformed Mandela from a headstrong activist into a reflective and consummately skilled statesman. We learn how British and American diplomats cold-shouldered him when support was desperately needed, and about the political infighting, sometimes vicious, that went on between anti-apartheid factions. Particularly fascinating is Sampson's narrative of the incredible negotiations leading to Mandela's release from prison and the eventual collapse of the white regime, when his colleagues feared that he was selling out to the government.

At every turn, this book sheds fresh light on the moral dilemmas that Mandela was forced to face again and again in his personal and public lives. In the struggle for freedom for South African blacks, he paid a tragic price, becoming alienated from his wife and remote from his children. Yet he famously retained his humanity, and while Sampson does not conceal Mandela's failings--his stubbornness, his fixed loyalties, his princely manners and detachment--the man who emerges is authentically heroic.

Broadly based, painstakingly researched, elegantly written, Mandela is a fitting complement to Mandela's celebrated autobiography. It will stand as an exemplar of the biographer's art at its most masterly and, even more, as a moving testament to the power of the human spirit in adversity.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Mandela, Nelson, 1918-Presidents South Africa Biography, South Africa Politics and government 20th century