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A Nelson Mandela reading list

Compiled by Julia Callaway

Here we celebrate the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. From his early days as an activist, to his trial and imprisonment, to his presidency, this reading list of books, online articles, and journal articles covers all aspects of his life, and looks beyond the work he did to see how he influenced South Africa and the world.


Mandela: A Critical Life by Tom Lodge

Drawing on a wide range of original sources, Mandela: A Critical Life uncovers 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.

“Nelson Mandela” in Who’s Who

Nelson Mandela’s entry in Who’s Who, the leading source of up-to-date information about the most influential people in British public life.

Saving Nelson Mandela: The Rivonia Trial and the Fate of South Africa by Kenneth S. Broun

When South Africa’s apartheid government charged Nelson Mandela with planning its overthrow in 1963, most observers feared that he would be sentenced to death. But the support he and his fellow activists in the African National Congress received during his not only saved his life, but also enabled him to save his country.

Nelson Mandela’s quotations in Oxford Essential Quotations, edited by Susan Ratcliffe

During his life, Nelson Mandela inspired people through his speeches and letters. Here is a collection of his most inspiring quotes from Oxford Essential Quotations, the online collection based on the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Sixth Edition and Oxford Quotations by Subject, Second Edition.

Nelson Mandela: A Very Short Introduction by Elleke Boehmer

Across his life Mandela has filled a rich range of roles: handsome city-slicker, dashing guerrilla, the millennial savior figure. By examining these different roles as well as the principles which lie behind and motivate them, this Very Short Introduction presents an analytical portrait of a shape-shifting life.

“Nelson Mandela” in the Encyclopedia of Human Rights, edited by David Forsythe

Nelson Mandela dedicated his life to human rights projects and was an outspoken opponent of the apartheid state in South Africa. This article from the Encyclopedia of Human Rights looks at Mandela the activist.

Mandela, Tambo, and the African National Congress: The Struggle Against Apartheid, 1948-1990, A Documentary Survey, edited by Sheridan Johns and R. Hunt Davis, Jr.

This documentary history follows the changing nature of the African nationalist movement over a 42 year period, between the ruling National Party’s electoral victory of 1948 and the subsequent institution of apartheid, to Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. It focuses on the central roles Mandela and Oliver Tambo played in the African National Congress and the ANC’s success in overcoming government opposition to emerging as the voice of the anti-apartheid movement.

“Mandela, Nelson (Rolihlahia)” in Who’s Who in the Twentieth Century

A general biography of Nelson Mandela from Who’s Who in the Twentieth Century, which provides biographies of men and women from different countries and cultures who have contributed to the thought as well as the action of the twentieth century.

The Apartheid State in Crisis: Political Transformation of South Africa, 1975-1990 by Robert M. Price

Despite the considerable attention paid to South Africa in recent years, this text is unique in providing a comprehensive analysis of South Africa’s politics through the 1980s. It argues that the apparent stability of South Africa’s apartheid regime masked a profound political transformation during this time period, which ultimately provided a framework for political transition in the 1990s.

“Mandela, Nelson Rolihlahla” in the Dictionary of Political Biography, edited by Dennis Kavanagh and Christopher Riches

A look at Nelson Mandela’s political career in a resource that describes and assesses the lives of around 870 men and women who have shaped political events across the world.

Mobilizing for Peace: Conflict Resolution in Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, and South Africa, edited by Benjamin Gidron, Stanley N. Katz, and Yeheskel Hasenfeld

This in-depth study of 33 peace and conflict organizations in South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Israel and Palestine, explores the sociopolitical and cultural contexts of each of these conflicts, and shows how different types of resolution organizations have emerged.

“Mandela, Winnie” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History, edited by Bonnie G. Smith

This article looks at the work and activism of Winnie Mandela, the second wife of Nelson Mandela, and a prominent leader of the antiapartheid movement in her own right.

Black Liberation: A Comparative History of Black Ideologies in the United States and South Africa by George M. Fredrickson

Black Liberation offers an account of how blacks in the United States and South Africa came to grips with the challenge of white supremacy. It reveals a rich history, not merely of parallel developments, but of an intricate, transatlantic web of influences and cross-fertilization.

Privacy, the Press and the Public Interest in Post-Apartheid South Africa” by Herman Wasserman and Mashilo Boloka, Parliamentary Affairs

In post-apartheid South Africa, the media enjoy a newfound freedom. The repressive censorship laws under which the media had to operate before democratisation have been replaced by a constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech. However, there is no final consensus about what the media’s role in this new democracy should be, and what its relationship with government should entail.

Songs and Secrets: South Africa from Liberation to Governance by Barry Gilder

Written in an anecdotal style, and with a cinematic quality, Songs and Secrets explores questions of the ANC’s governance through the viewfinder of a former high-ranking member of the ANC’s secret intelligence wing. It follows the author into the ANC’s military camps in Angola, to Moscow for spycraft training, to the underground in Botswana, and into leadership positions in the administration of the new government.

Three years after apartheid: growth, employment and redistribution?” by Jonathan Michie and Vishnu Padayachee, Cambridge Journal of Economics

In 1994 South Africa’s first ever democratic elections gave the ANC an overwhelming majority, with Nelson Mandela as President. This article reviews developments since then. It describes the economy at the beginning of the transition from apartheid, the policy initiatives of the new government, and the development of the economy over the three years following the 1994 elections. It analyses critically the government’s 1996 ‘Growth, Employment and Redistribution’ policy.

South Africa in World History by Iris Berger

This volume begins in the early centuries of the Common Era, when various groups of people settled in southern Africa, and spans the next two millennia. It highlights particular points in the history of the region, from the arrival of the Dutch in the 17th century, the British conquest in the early 19th century, to 20th century politics and the end of the apartheid state in 1994. It emphasizes social and cultural history, and draws on extensive biographical and autobiographical literature of the time.

Understanding the Democratic Transition in South Africa” by Robert P. Inman and Daniel L. Rubinfeld, American Law and Economics Review

South Africa has found an equilibrium that has improved the welfare of the white minority and the black majority. However, the success of the federal structure depends on the patience of the majority and their demands for redistributive public services. An impatient and more radical majority party threatens the current equilibrium.

Facts and Faction: The Development of Church and State Relations in Democratic South Africa from 1994–2012” by Raymond Simangaliso Kumalo, Journal of Church and State

When the constitution of democratic South Africa was adopted, it had a clause that signified a major shift for the country from being a Christian state to a religiously neutral one. This meant that unlike secular states that opted to leave religion in the private realm, South Africa made a decision to embrace religion as one of the recognized pillars on which its society was to be built, but this had to be done without being biased to any particular religion.

Julia Callaway is a Social Media Coordinator at Oxford University Press. She is Deputy Editor of OUPblog.

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