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The Boer War by Thomas Pakenham

The Boer War (1979)

by Thomas Pakenham

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762518,719 (4.05)15

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Showing 5 of 5
This three inch book of 650 pages is printed in what – to my tired old eyes – seems to be an eight point font, or less, and I struggled to read the closely packed history at first. But I persevered, gradually focusing on the facts and not the font, and found the extra effort well rewarded. In fact, by the second day, I could not put this impressive magnum opus down. The Boer War (1899 – 1902) was to be the most costly, in terms of blood and treasure, in the hundred years of Queen Victoria’s “little wars” period, and was a true forecast of the butchery that smokeless rifles fired from trenches would effect in the slaughter of WWI.

Thomas Pakenham is in fact the 8th Earl of Longford, and his grandfather fought the Boers in South Africa, and was seriously wounded in a typical ‘last stand’ affair where 80 of his fellow troops were killed. The author, besides being a respected and prize winning historian (perhaps best known for his The Scramble for Africa (http://www.librarything.com/work/22396) is also a noted arborist.

The book offers great insights – several of which are detailed here for the first time- into the politics of the war, both in Cape Town and the government parliaments and leaders, that were behind the campaigns and battles. A drum roll of famous characters thunders through this work, Kitchener, Roberts (“Bobs”), Kipling, Botha, Jan Smuts, Chamberlain … names that echo still.

I thoroughly recommend this book for history lovers and for those seeking the widest picture of a complicated, tortuous and very political war – A.J.P. Taylor added to his recommend that ”…the reader turns each page with increasing fascination and admiration”. I certainly did.
4 vote John_Vaughan | Sep 23, 2012 |
A vast quantity of meticulous historical research, as well as interviews with the last surviving veterans, underpins this lively history of the Boer War (1899 - 1902). Pakenham's book tells three stories in succession: how the war started, how it was fought; and how it stumbled to a close. The first story is a diplomatic history: how Sir Alfred Milner, Lieutenant-Governor of the Cape Colony, manipulated the British Empire and two Boer republics, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, into a war that could have been avoided. The second story describes the hard lessons of new military technology (smokeless powder and accurate, long-range rifles) that decisively shifted the advantage from offense to defense -- and the slow, painful groping by British generals towards a new set of offensive tactics. This account dominates most of the middle of the book, and offers a reappraisal of British general Redvers Buller, who the author credits as the first on his side to develop the right tactics for the new war. The final chapters describe a different kind of war: after the British armies beat the Boer armies, a remnant of Boers regrouped as guerrilla commandos. The challenges the British faced in trying to force the commandos to a negotiating table and bring the conflict to a close have interesting if inexact parallels in the challenges facing modern superpowers fighting asymmetric wars.

Pakenham doesn't hide his unequal sympathies for some historical figures over others. In particular, he plainly admires Buller, but has little respect for such vaunted British generals as Field Marshall Roberts and Lord Kitchener - he gives them their due, but he clearly doesn't think much of them as men. Pakenham evaluates leaders' military skills, but seems more interested in their characters. It isn't entirely clear how he judges that, but he gives little weight to contemporary public opinion, while reporting with care the opinions of troops who served under various commanders. Pakenham's partiality might be worrisome if his research weren't so thorough; as it is, his opinions are refreshing. The book is somewhat lopsided in its narrative, which is usually from the point of view of the British rather than the Boers, although the author describes several of the Boer commanders -- Loius Botha, Christian De Wet, Koos De La Rey -- as brilliant.

A recurring theme of the book is the gross injustice and brutality visited by both the English and the Boers on the native Africans. Because of that, I found it impossible to root for either side, though the British come out looking somewhat worse because of their overwhelming power and their willingness to degrade and destroy African lives and rights to secure the Transvaal's gold for the Empire. ( )
2 vote bezoar44 | Jun 29, 2011 |
Excellent book, Very rich in detail. This makes the battles sometimes incomprehensible, but this could be because english is not my mothertongue or because the exact manouevres are not of particular interest to me.

I am dutch, and therefore have a natural sympathy for the boers. I found Pakenham unbiased although he does focus primarily on the english side of the war which is too bad. This is probably because the availabe sources are primarily of english origins.

Nevertheless, good book, could recommend it to anyoen interested in (british)military history or the boers. ( )
  WouterGil | May 29, 2009 |
1740 The Boer War, by Thomas Pakenham (read 19 Sep 1982) This is a 1979 book by the eldest son of the Earl of Longford. It is excellent, though it has a different than normal view. It says Buller was an able and good general and that Roberts and Kitchener could hardly do anything right! And I think the author makes a good case for his views. It was an awful war, and of course should not have been . But I could not help but be 'for' the British, of course. A very good book, but I probably have read enough on the Boer War. ( )
  Schmerguls | Nov 2, 2008 |
Compelling reading - a blend of historical fact and strong journalistic input ( )
  landofashes | Nov 5, 2007 |
Showing 5 of 5
Lost to the annals of history, the Boer War has failed to resonate in the hearts and minds of many. Perhaps the reason for Britain's collective failed memory is the fact that a band of ill equipped South African farmers were able to beat one of the most powerful empires.
added by John_Vaughan | editHelium, Ruza Modra (Mar 13, 2012)
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"Look back over the pages of history; consider the feelings with which we now regard wars that our forefathers in their time supported...see how powerful and deadly are the fascinations of passion and of pride." - W.F. Gladstone, 26 November 1879, condeming the first annexation of the Transvaal.
For Val, in gratitude once again, And to the memory of the war veterans who told me what it was like to be there.
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Johannesburg was not ready.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0394427424, Hardcover)

Accompanied by photographs, portraits and paintings, this book includes private papers, Public Record Office documents, secret journals, diaries and tape-recorded testaments, to bring to life the story of one of the most terrible wars ever fought. Blunders and feuds are exposed and the true plight of the millions who served on both sides revealed. This is a book remarkable for its scope, impact and scholarship. By the author of "Scramble for Africa", which won the 1992 W.H. Smith Award.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:34 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

The Boers of South Africa responded to Britain's annexation of the gold-and-diamond-rich Transvaal region by declaring war on October 11, 1899. The English believed the fighting would be over by Christmas -- never dreaming they were on the brink of one of the longest, bloodiest, most costly and humiliating military campaigns in their history. Mammoth in scope and scholarship, as vivid, fast-moving and breathtakingly compelling as the finest fiction. Thomas Pakenham's The Boer War is the definitive account of this extraordinary conflict -- a war precipitated by greed and marked by almost inconcievable blundering and brutalities . . . and whose shattering repercussions can be felt to this very day.

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