Knowing Mandela: A Personal Portrait


John Carlin - 2013
    In his acclaimed "Playing the Enemy" (filmed by Clint Eastwood as "Invictus") he told the story of Mandela's role in the Rugby World Cup of 1995, when Mandela's political genius transformed a sporting event into a moment that defined, unforgettably, a new nation.In his new book, Carlin now offers an illuminating and inspiring personal account of the iconic figure who has come both to define post-apartheid South Africa and to represent the possibility of a moral politics to the world at large." ""Knowing Mandela "focuses on the years from 1990 to 1995, when Mandela faced his most daunting obstacles and achieved his greatest triumphs; it was the time when the full flower of his genius as a political leader was most vividly on display. Carlin spent those years reporting on Mandela's feats, trials and tribulations and was one of the few foreign journalists in South Africa to cover both his release from prison and his accession to the presidency four years later.Drawing on conversations with Mandela and interviews with people close to him, Carlin has crafted a remarkable account of a man who is as flawed as he is gifted, neither superman nor saint. "Knowing Mandela" offers a profound understanding of the man and what has made him the towering moral and political figure of our age.

The Life and Legend of the Sultan Saladin


Jonathan Phillips - 2019
    Born into a significant Kurdish family in northern Iraq, Saladin shot to power in faraway Egypt thanks to the tutelage of his uncle. Over two decades, this warrior and diplomat fought under the banner of jihad, but at the same time worked tirelessly to build an immense dynastic empire that stretched from North Africa to Western Iraq. Gathering together a turbulent and diverse coalition he was able to capture Jerusalem, only to trigger the Third Crusade and face his greatest adversary, King Richard the Lionheart.Drawing on a rich blend of Arabic and European sources, this is a comprehensive account of both the man and the legend to which he gave birth, describing vividly the relentless action of his life and then tracing its aftermath through culture and politics all the way to the present day. It reveals the personal qualities that explain his enduring reputation as a man of faith, generosity, mercy and justice, even while showing him to be capable of mistakes, self-interest and cruelty. After Saladin’s death, it goes on to explain how in the West this Sunni Muslim became famed for his charm and chivalric virtue, while across much of the Islamic world he stands as one of history’s greatest heroes, an inspiration to be admired and emulated. The Life and Legend of the Sultan Saladin shows how this one man’s life takes us beyond the crude stereotypes of the ‘Clash of Civilisations’ even while his legacy helps explain them: an intimate portrait of a towering figure of world history that is thrillingly relevant today.

When We Were Arabs: A Jewish Family’s Forgotten History


Massoud Hayoun - 2019
    It was a time when Oscar Hayoun, a Jewish Arab, strode along the Nile in a fashionable suit after Shabbat services on his way to bring tobacco to his dying grandfather, long before Oscar and his father arrived at the port of Haifa to join the Zionist state only to find themselves first hosed down with DDT then left unemployed on the margins of society. In that time, Arabness was a mark of diverse cosmopolitanism, of intellectualism. Today, in the age of the Likud and ISIS, Massoud Hayoun, the Jewish Arab journalist that Oscar raised in Los Angeles, finds his voice by telling his family’s story.To reclaim a cosmopolitan, nuanced Arab identity is, for Hayoun, part of the larger project to recall a world before ethnic identity was mangled for political ends. It is also a journey deep into a lost age of sophisticated innocence in the Arab world; an age that until now could be witnessed only in the films his family treasured but that are now nearly lost amid the flood of culture.When We Were Arabs, a stunning debut that showcases the gorgeous prose of writer Massoud Hayoun, tells the stories of Oscar and Daida, bringing their worlds alive in vivid poetic prose, and in so doing shattering our contemporary understanding of what makes an Arab, what makes a Jew, and how we draw the lines between us over which we do battle.

Jan Smuts: Unafraid of Greatness


Richard Steyn - 2015
    Yet little is said about him today even as we appear to live in a leadership vacuum. Unafraid of Greatness is a re-examination of the life and thought of Jan Smuts. It is intended to remind a contemporary readership of the remarkable achievements of this impressive soldier-statesman. The author argues that there is a need to bring Smuts back into the present, that Smuts' legacy still has much to instruct. He draws several parallels between Smuts and President Thabo Mbeki, both intellectuals much lionised abroad and yet often distrusted at home. This book is a highly readable account of Smuts' life. It also examines a number of overarching themes: his relationships with women, spiritual life, intellectual life and his role as advisor to world leaders. Politics and international affairs receive the lion's share, but Smuts' unique contributions to other fields - for example, botany - are not neglected. Unafraid of Greatness does not shy away from the contradictions of its subject. Smuts was one of the architects of the United Nations, and a great champion of human rights, yet he could not see the need to reform the condition of the African majority in his own country.

The Believer: How an Introvert with a Passion for Religion and Soccer Became Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Leader of the Islamic State (The Brookings Essay)


William McCants - 2015
    ISIS), a group so brutal and hardline that even al-Qaida deemed them too extreme. Baghdadi, an introverted religious scholar, with a passion for soccer, now controls large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria. McCants shows how Baghdadi became radicalized in the Saddam Hussein era and found his path to power after connecting with other radicals in an American prison during the Iraq War, culminating in his declaration of a reborn Islamic empire bent on world conquest.

Burton: A Biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton


Byron Farwell - 1963
    He made significant contributions in the fields of literature and geography, and was also a poet, traveler, soldier, diplomat, inventor, explorer, archaeologist, student of religion and more. But above all, Burton was an adventurer in both the intellectual and spiritual world.Byron Farwell spent seven years investigating virtually every place ever visited by Burton. He overcame formidable difficulties in tracking down and reading all of Burton's extant works (his widow, Isabel, had burned most of his books when he died). Still, Burton proved a highly elusive subject for his biographer. But he has at last been caught. The result is a magnificent biography and a story that fascinates and compels.

Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism


John Calvert - 2009
    Lacking a pure understanding of the leader's life and work, the popular media has conflated Qutb's moral purpose with the aims of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. He is often portrayed as a terrorist, Islamo-Fascist, and advocate of murder. An expert on social protest and political resistance, John Calvert rescues Qutb from misrepresentation and follows the evolution of his thought within the context of his time.Calvert recounts Qutb's life from the small village in which he was raised to his execution at the behest of Abd al-Nasser's regime. His study remains sensitive to the cultural, political, social, and economic circumstances that shaped Qutb's thought, including major developments that composed one of the most eventful periods in Egyptian history. These years witnessed the full flush of Britain's tutelary regime, the advent of Egyptian nationalism, and the political hegemony of the Free Officers. Qutb rubbed shoulders with Taha Husayn, Naguib Mahfouz, and Abd al-Nasser himself, though his Islamism originally had little to do with religion. Only in response to his harrowing experience in prison did Qutb come to regard Islam and kufr (infidelity) as oppositional, antithetical, and therefore mutually exclusive. Calvert shows how Qutb repackaged and reformulated the Islamic heritage to challenge authority, including those who claimed (falsely, Qutb believed) to be Muslim.

Tomorrow Is Another Country: The Inside Story of South Africa's Road to Change


Allister Sparks - 1994
    Tomorrow is Another Country retells the story of the behind-the-scenes collaborations that started with a meeting between Kobie Coetsee, then minister of justice, and Nelson Mandela in 1985. By 1986, negotiations involved senior government officials, intelligence agents, and the African National Congress. For the next four years, they assembled in places such as a gamepark lodge, the Palace Hotel in Lucerne, Switzerland, a fishing hideaway, and even in a hospital room. All the while, De Klerk's campaign assured white constituents nothing would change. Sparks shows how the key players, who began with little reason to trust one another, developed friendships which would later play a crucial role in South Africa's struggle to end apartheid."A gripping, fast-paced, authoritative account of the long and mostly secret negotiations that brought South Africa's bitter conflict to its near-miraculous end. Sparks's description of these talks sometimes brings a lump to one's throat. He shows how the participants' deep mutual suspicion was gradually replaced by excitement at the prospect of making a momentous agreement—and also by the dawning realization that the people on the other side were human beings, perhaps even decent human beings."—Adam Hochschild, New York Times Book Review"A splendid and original history. . . . Sparks's skillful weaving of myriad strands—Mandela's secret sessions with the committee, the clandestine talks in England between the African National Congress and the government, the back-channel communications between Mandela and the A.N.C. in exile, the trepidation of Botha and the apparent transformation of his successor, De Klerk—possesses the drama and intrigue of a diplomatic whodunit."—Richard Stengel, Time"Sparks offers many reasons for hope, but the most profound of them is the story this book tells."—Jacob Weisberg, Washington Post"The most riveting of the many [accounts] that have been published about the end of apartheid."—The Economist

Mandela: A Critical Life


Tom Lodge - 2006
    Now, in this new and highly revealing biography, Tom Lodge draws on a wide range of original sources to uncover a host of fresh insights about the shaping of Mandela's personality and public persona, from his childhood days and early activism, through his twenty-seven years of imprisonment, to his presidency of the new South Africa. The book follows Mandela from his education at two elite Methodist boarding schools to his role as a moderating but powerful force in the African National Congress. Throughout, Lodge emphasizes the crucial interplay between Mandela's public career and his private world, revealing how Mandela drew moral and political strength from encounters in which everyday courtesy and even generosity softened conflict. Indeed, the lessons Mandela learned as a child about the importance of defeating ones opponents without dishonoring them were deeply engrained. They shaped a politics of grace and honor that was probably the only approach that could have enabled South Africa's relatively peaceful transition to democracy. Here then is a penetrating look at one of the most celebrated political figures of our time, illuminating a pivotal moment in recent world history."Authoritative and fair-minded...deserves to be read widely."--Adam Roberts, The Economist"A fascinating, indeed riveting, and plausible as well as persuasive examination of why Nelson Mandela should have acquired a world following and can remain as he does an iconic figure even in the 21st century. It is certain to provoke much heated debate."--Desmond Tutu

Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred


Mark Gevisser - 2007
    It is a story, too, of political intrigue; of a revolutionary movement struggling first to defeat and then to seduce a powerful and callous enemy, of the battle between unity and discord, and the dogged rise to power of a quiet, clever, diligent but unpopular man who seemed to take little joy in power but have much need for it. By the time he retires in 2009, Thabo Mbeki will have ruled South Africa, in effect, for the full fifteen years of its post-apartheid democracy: the first five as Nelson Mandela's 'prime minister' and the next ten as Mandela's successor. No African leader since the uhuru generation of Nkrumah and Nyerere has been as influential. The author's long-awaited biography is a profound psycho-political examination of this brilliant but deeply-flawed leader, who has attempted to forge an identity for himself as the symbol of modern Africa in the long shadow of Mandela. It is also a gripping journey into the turbulent history and troubled contemporary soul of the country; one that tries to make sense of the violence of the past and confusion of the present. As Mbeki battles, in the current day, with demons ranging from AIDS to Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and finds his legacy challenged by the ever-growing candidacy of his would-be successor Jacob Zuma, The Dream Deferred tracks us back along the path that brought him here, and helps us understand the meaning of South Africa, post-apartheid and post-Mandela.

Princess Alice: The Life and Times of Alice Roosevelt Longworth


Carol Felsenthal - 1988
    Here is both the delightful and the dark sides of her life.

American Jennie: The Remarkable Life of Lady Randolph Churchill


Anne Sebba - 2007
    She became Lady Randolph Churchill, wife of a maverick politician and mother of the most famous British statesman of the century. Jennie Churchill was not merely the most talked about and controversial American woman in London society, she was a dynamic behind-the-scenes political force and a woman of sexual fearlessness at a time when women were not supposed to be sexually liberated. A concert pianist, magazine founder and editor, and playwright, she was also, above all, a devoted mother to Winston. In American Jennie, Anne Sebba draws on newly discovered personal correspondences and archives to examine the unusually powerful mutual infatuation between Jennie and her son and to relate the passionate and ultimately tragic career of the woman whom Winston described as having “the wine of life in her veins.”

The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and Reason, 1798 to Modern Times


Christopher de Bellaigue - 2017
    Flying in the face of everything we thought we knew, The Islamic Enlightenment becomes an astonishing and revelatory history that offers a game-changing assessment of the Middle East since the Napoleonic Wars.Beginning his account in 1798, de Bellaigue demonstrates how Middle Eastern heartlands have long welcomed modern ideals and practices, including the adoption of modern medicine, the emergence of women from seclusion, and the development of democracy. With trenchant political and historical insight, de Bellaigue further shows how the violence of an infinitesimally small minority is in fact the tragic blowback from these modernizing processes.Structuring his groundbreaking history around Istanbul, Cairo, and Tehran, the three main loci of Islamic culture, de Bellaigue directly challenges ossified perceptions of a supposedly benighted Muslim world through the forgotten, and inspiring, stories of philosophers, anti-clerics, journalists, and feminists who opened up their societies to political and intellectual emancipation. His sweeping and vivid account includes remarkable men and women from across the Muslim world, including Ibrahim Sinasi, who brought newspapers to Istanbul; Mirza Saleh Shirzi, whose Persian memoirs describe how the Turkish harems were finally shuttered; and Qurrat al-Ayn, an Iranian noble woman, who defied her husband to become a charismatic prophet.What makes The Islamic Enlightenment particularly germane is that non-Muslim pundits in the post-9/11 era have repeatedly called for Islam to subject itself to the transformations that the West has already achieved since the Enlightenment—the absurd implication being that if Muslims do not stop reading or following the tenets of the Qur’an and other holy books, they will never emerge from a benighted state of backwardness. The Islamic Enlightenment, with its revolutionary argument, completely refutes this view and, in the process, reveals the folly of Westerners demanding modernity from those whose lives are already drenched in it.

Ambling Into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush


Frank Bruni - 2002
    Bush.As the principal New York Times reporter assigned to cover George W. Bush's presidential campaign from its earliest stages – and then as a White House correspondent – Frank Bruni has spent as much time around Bush over the last two years as any other reporter.In Ambling Into History, Bruni paints the most thorough, balanced, eloquent and lively portrait yet of a man in many ways ill–suited to the office he sought and won, focusing on small moments that often escaped the news media's notice. From the author's initial introduction to Bush through a nutty election night and Bush's first months in office, Bruni captures the president's familiar and less familiar oddities and takes readers on an often funny, usually irreverent, journey into the strange, closed universe – or bubble – of campaign life.The result is an original take on the political process and a detailed study of George W. Bush as most people have never seen him.

Golda


Elinor Burkett - 2008
    Her uncompromising devotion to shaping and defending a Jewish homeland against dogged enemies and skittish allies stunned political contemporaries skeptical about the stamina of an elderly leader, and transformed Middle Eastern politics for decades to follow.A blend of Emma Goldman and Martin Luther King Jr. in the guise of a cookie-serving grandmother, Meir was a tough-as-nails politician who issued the first prescient warnings about the rise of international terrorism, out-maneuvered Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger at their own game of realpolitik, and led Israel through a bloody war even as she eloquently pleaded for peace. A prodigious fundraiser and persuasive international voice, Golda carried the nation through its most perilous hours while she herself battled cancer.In this masterful biography, critically acclaimed author and Pulitzer Prize–nominated journalist Elinor Burkett looks beyond Meir's well-known accomplishments to the complex motivations and ideals, personal victories and disappointments, of her charismatic public persona. Beginning with Meir's childhood in virulently anti-Semitic Russia and her family's subsequent relocation to the United States, Burkett places Meir within the framework of the American immigrant experience, the Holocaust, and the single-mindedness of a generation that carved a nation out of its own nightmares and dreams. She paints a vivid portrait of a legendary woman defined by contradictions: an iron resolve coupled with magnetic charm, an utter ordinariness of appearance matched to extraordinary achievements, a kindly demeanor that disguised a stunning hard-heartedness, and a complete dedication to her country that often overwhelmed her personal relationships.To produce this definitive account of Meir's life, Burkett mined historical records never before examined by any researcher, and interviewed members of Meir's inner circle, many going on record for the first time. The result is an astounding portrait of one of the most commanding political presences of the twentieth century—a woman whose uncompromising commitment to the creation and preservation of a Jewish state fueled and framed the ideological conflicts that still define Middle Eastern relations today.