The life of Nelson Mandela is one the most extraordinary epics of the twentieth century. An almost forgotten prisoner on Robben Island 20 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 He was given Mandela's complete cooperation, including access to 27 years' worth of unpublished correspondence from prison and may other private documents -- even the original draft of Mandela's prison autobiography, long thought to be lost.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 an unofficial university, gradually transformed Mandela from a headstrong activist into a reflective and consummately skilled statesman. We learn how the British and American diplomats cold-shouldered him when support was desperately needed, and about the political in-fighting between anti-apartheid factions. Particularly fascinating is Sampson's narrative of the incredible negotiations leading to Mandela's release from prison and theeventual 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 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 testament to the power of the human spirit in adversity.