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The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation Under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879

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Filled with colorful characters, dramatic battles like Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift, and an inexorable narrative momentum, this unsurpassed history details the sixty-year existence of the world's mightiest African empire; from its brutal formation and zenith under the military genius Shaka , through its inevitable collision with white expansionism, to its dissolution unde Filled with colorful characters, dramatic battles like Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift, and an inexorable narrative momentum, this unsurpassed history details the sixty-year existence of the world's mightiest African empire; from its brutal formation and zenith under the military genius Shaka , through its inevitable collision with white expansionism, to its dissolution under Cetshwayo in the Zulu War of 1879.


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Filled with colorful characters, dramatic battles like Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift, and an inexorable narrative momentum, this unsurpassed history details the sixty-year existence of the world's mightiest African empire; from its brutal formation and zenith under the military genius Shaka , through its inevitable collision with white expansionism, to its dissolution unde Filled with colorful characters, dramatic battles like Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift, and an inexorable narrative momentum, this unsurpassed history details the sixty-year existence of the world's mightiest African empire; from its brutal formation and zenith under the military genius Shaka , through its inevitable collision with white expansionism, to its dissolution under Cetshwayo in the Zulu War of 1879.

30 review for The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation Under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    I first read The Washing of the Spears when I was twelve years old. I know this because the inscription in my battered, dog-eared, self-annotated copy reads: "1992 Nov. 18 day cast on (r) thumb, love mom". See, I had broken my thumb at recess, playing a variation of soccer in which you could catch the ball in your hands and either run with it or punt it. If you ran, you got tackled. It was an incredibly fun, incredibly violent mash-up of soccer, rugby, and football, and of course could never be I first read The Washing of the Spears when I was twelve years old. I know this because the inscription in my battered, dog-eared, self-annotated copy reads: "1992 Nov. 18 day cast on (r) thumb, love mom". See, I had broken my thumb at recess, playing a variation of soccer in which you could catch the ball in your hands and either run with it or punt it. If you ran, you got tackled. It was an incredibly fun, incredibly violent mash-up of soccer, rugby, and football, and of course could never be played at school today. Anyway, I broke my thumb trying to block a punt; as a present, my mom bought me this book. Now, I'm not quite sure why, at age twelve, I was already obsessed with the Zulu, but I'm sure it had something to do with William Faure's awesome miniseries Shaka Zulu (starring Edward Fox, Henry Cele, and featuring a cameo by Christopher Lee!). Shaka Zulu was pretty transgressive for 80s television, with its graphic spear-deaths and multitude of bare backsides. It was shocking enough to my eyes that I watched in secret, lest my parents catch me. (This was before the internet, obviously, and the expansion of cable television, so it was still very easy to be shocked. I mean, these were the days when an adolescent boy, failing to get his hands on Playboy, often settled for National Geographic...Or so I'm told). The Washing of the Spears was the first book I read about the Zulu Nation. Many, many years later, it is still, far and away, the best. Moreover, at the risk of totallly overselling this book - if that's possible - this is one of the best works of narrative history that you will ever read. It's one of my favorite books, one of the few books that I - a fairly slow reader - have read more than once. It never gets old. It is an epic adventure, bursting with thematic elements that I hesitate to call Shakespearian but, failing to find a similar descriptor, will be forced to call Shakespearian. There are heroes, villains, mother issues, political intrigue, assassinations, murders, military blunders, ambushes, escapes, last stands, suicidal charges, the clash of steel, a clash of empires, one black and one white. The author, Donald Morris breaks The Washing of the Spears into two halves. The first half is a detailed sociological look at the rise of the Zulu people, a tribe in Africa that grew to dominate the southern horn under its fierce leader, Shaka. Morris does a fine job giving you an overview of Zulu life: how they lived and loved and mated; how they raised their children; what they ate; where they lived. The writing is brisk, informative, peppered with telling detail. I've seldom seen ethnography done so well: The [Zulu's] huts were hive-shaped structures, light frameworks of woven saplings to which grass thatching was applied. The center of the roof was supported by a pole, and the only access was a single low door through which one scrambled on hands and knees. The floor was a polished surface of clay and cowdung, ground to a lustrous green, and cooking was done in earthen pots over an open fire on a low hearth...The huts were rainproof, warm in winter and cool in summer. They were cheap and durable, and could be erected in a few hours...The huts, however, had a number of disadvantages. The walls were usually alive with cockroaches, and becasue the door, which was barred at night, was the only opening, the interiors were always dark and choked with smoke. This section is dominated, for good reason, by Shaka. Like an African Agamemnon, he united a number of tribes into a single, powerful kingdom that ruled South Africa. Shaka is a fascinating, mercurial, often-frightening character. He was a genius at developing tactics suited for the terrain and his soldiers. He developed the assegai, the Zulu's short, wide-bladed stabbing spear. He devised the impi system, forming regiments of like-aged men. He created the bull-and-horns formation, in which a large body of men would move to the enemy's center, while on both flanks, two fleet-footed columns would wrap around the enemy's flanks, surrounding him (sort of an Africanized version of Hannibal's double envelopment at the Battle of Cannae). Shaka was also a cold blooded bastards, attested by the fact that he had his enemies sodomized on large wooden stakes driven into the ground. (When I first read this, at age twelve, I had no idea what it meant to be sodomized on a large wooden stake; I think that was probably a good thing). The second half of the book concerns the British invasion of Zululand in 1879. When I was young, this was my favorite part. And, to be honest, it still is. Without reducing a very real human tragedy, the Zulu War is a massively entertaining story. Combine the colonial stories of Kipling with the chases and escapes of James Fenimore Cooper and the massive battles of Tolstoy and you have the Zulu War. The annals of warfare ring with the names of the British-Zulu battles, though I feel safe in assuming most people have never heard of these places, these epics of life and death. Isandlwana, the largest ever defeat of white troops by indigenous peoples, where 1,000 British soldiers under Colonel Pulleine fell to a force of 20,000 Zulus under King Cetshwayo. Rorke's Drift, where a tiny force of redcoats, under the command of an engineer, somehow held off an overwhelming force of Zulus in a fight that makes the Alamo look like a game of Go Fish. There is the death of the Prince Imperial, relative of Napoleon, who is caught on the veldt and dies with his sword in hand. There are the battles of Hlobane, Eshowe, Intombe, Kambula, and the sad slaughter at Ulundi, where Gatling guns and Lancers, the new warfare and the old, destroyed the once-proud Zulu nation. The point of view, which had been Afrocentric in the first half, subtly switches in the second. Morris, perhaps inevitably for a white author, is in thrall to the heroism of the British soldiers (and it should be mentioned, political correctness be damned, that these guys had guts: outnumbered, armed with single shot rifles, facing thousands of hardened warriors armed with spears). At times, Morris writes like a school boy who's just been to Westminster Abbey for the first time. There is a real strain of Anglophilia during some of the battle scenes, a kind of adoration for these colonial fighting men. And you know what, I dig it. There are stories of bravery during the Zulu Wars that are hard to imagine. There is brave Captain Younghusband, his tunic torn off, slashing at the hordes from atop a wagon at Isandlwana. There are the scrappy Welsh riflemen scurrying through a burning hospital at Rorke's Drift, using pickaxes to break through walls while the Zulu chase after them. It's hard to blame the author for the novelistic feel. The Zulu War was an epic that Homer would've been proud to write. Take, for instance, the battle of Isandlwana. After it was clear the British lines had collapsed, two officers - Melvill and Coghill, tried to save the regimental flag. They died in the effort. They died for something as silly and important, as foolish and as laudatory as saving a scrap of fabric. Despite his useless leg, [Higginson] managed to reach [Coghill and Melvill] and dragged Melvill to the shore, but the [flag]staff had finally slipped from Melvill's weakened grasp and the banner whirled away downstream. Higginson reached the bank with them. The three men rested for a few moments, and Higginson wandered off to find some horses. Then the Zulus saw Melvill's coat and started toward them. A few shots from somewhere slowed them, and Melvill and Coghill started to hobble up the steep slope away from the river. Coghill could not walk, and Melvill was too spent to be of much assistance, but they put their arms over each other's shoulders and stumbled forward. A hundred painful yards cost them the last of their strength, and they sank down with their backs to a large rocky outcropping to await the Zulus climbing after them. Coghill still had his sword and a nickle-plated revolver, but when Melvill finally pulled out his own sidearm, he found that the cylinder had fallen out, probably when he was reloading it at the beginning of the flight...Higginson found a horse on the ridge, gathered two or three men, and raced down the slope to the rescue. While still fifty yards away, with the scene hidden by the jutting rock, he heard the end. There were a few shots and the sound of a scuffle, and when thirty Zulus dropped down to the trail he was forced to turn away. There is definitely a bit of blood-and-thunder to this telling, but Morris, to his credit, does a fairly good job of never letting things get too far out of hand. While not a perfectly balanced account, owing perhaps to its older sensibilities (it was written in 1965), it tries to be fair to the Zulu who were, after all, the victims in the war. Lord Chelmsford's decision to invade Zululand came as a result of the Zulu's failure to abide by an ultimatum that should never have been issued and that could never have been obeyed (shades of Austria-Hungary's German-fueled ultimatum to the Serbs in 1914). By the end, the story has taken a most melancholy turn. Following the thumping excitement of battle comes a peace familiar to the Carthaginians, and Morris does not ignore this. The Zulu Nation, once a great kingdom, has been reduced to penury and destitution, their old way of life destroyed. (Their brethren, the Xhosa, nearly starved to death after a female prophet told them to burn their crops in order to drive the British away; it didn't turn out so well). Eventually, the story of South Africa devolved into one of the sadder, more pathetic chapters in human history. Though it is beyond the scope of this book, all readers know how the story of South Africa progressed. The English and Dutch wrestled for control of South Africa, the short, nasty Boer War presaged the concentration camps of World War II, and finally, the Afrikaner Party took control, instituted apartheid, and achieved a legacy of shame they should never be allowed to forget. When I was a kid, I read the book and thrilled to the fact that the outnumbered British managed to win. I look back at it as an adult and wish it'd turned out differently; that maybe the British might just have stayed home, where they belonged. They didn't, though, and the result was one hell of a story.

  2. 4 out of 5

    'Aussie Rick'

    I have a 1965 copy of this great book and I don't think that there has been a better account of the rise & fall of the Zulu nation. This is one of the best accounts of how the Zulu nation become one of the most feared in Africa under Shaka and how it fell to ruin under Cetshwayo during the war with England in 1879. A great read that has not aged in these 30 odd years. This book has been the standard that all others have been compared to since its publication. It's one of my all time favourite bo I have a 1965 copy of this great book and I don't think that there has been a better account of the rise & fall of the Zulu nation. This is one of the best accounts of how the Zulu nation become one of the most feared in Africa under Shaka and how it fell to ruin under Cetshwayo during the war with England in 1879. A great read that has not aged in these 30 odd years. This book has been the standard that all others have been compared to since its publication. It's one of my all time favourite books and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who has a love for this period or a passion for history.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    I am pleased to say, The Washing of the Spears long held reputation as a classic of military history is well earned. Morris was an American naval officer in the 40s and a CIA agent when he wrote this work of immense quality and deep scholarship. Of course, much of the material is dated, but that cannot detract from its accomplishment. To this day, many refer to it as the seminal work on the Anglo-Zulu Wars. No doubt, that is as much a tribute to the quality of the narrative prose as it is to th I am pleased to say, The Washing of the Spears long held reputation as a classic of military history is well earned. Morris was an American naval officer in the 40s and a CIA agent when he wrote this work of immense quality and deep scholarship. Of course, much of the material is dated, but that cannot detract from its accomplishment. To this day, many refer to it as the seminal work on the Anglo-Zulu Wars. No doubt, that is as much a tribute to the quality of the narrative prose as it is to the research. At the time Morris was writing, he was also pursuing something relatively novel in the history of colonial wars -- he tried to reconstruct the perspective of the Zulus. Perhaps, that is one of the reasons that an American historian wrote the seminal work on the war. Until Washing of the Spears, the war was understood through the journals of the participants and the long simmering military debate on responsibility for Isandlwana. Morris changed that by trying to give a more complete picture of the motivations of all combatants. Furthermore, while Morris started out writing just about the Anglo-Zulu War, he quickly realized that he could not tell the story without tracing the history all the way back to the foundation of the Zulu nation. Of course, the unlikely creation of the Zulu nation by Shaka Zulu is a legendary tale and I enjoyed every page that Morris devoted to it. Thereafter, Morris bridges to Cetshwayo and the drive to war. He seems to support the notion that the war was largely a mistake driven by a local policy too keen to appease the Boers, who were ultimately unappeasable. Subsequently, the three great events of the war dominate the story -- Isandlwana, Rorke's Drift and the killing of the Prince Imperial (son of the recently exiled Napoleon III). While I new of the general story, in the hands of a master storyteller, you see it all blend together into something greater than the sum of its parts. The complex history of southern Africa will inevitably make more sense having read this book. Of course, you will probably want to pick up Pakenham's Boer War to get the end of the story. Nevertheless, I can't think of a better place to start. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. While its not short, I was engaged throughout. Morris tells a lively tale, full of insight and with an overarching unity that takes what might be isolated struggles and weaves them into a broader fabric. You don't need to care a lick about pith helmets or asagai's to enjoy this book. I fully recommend it to anyone with an interest in history, much less military history.

  4. 4 out of 5

    DoctorM

    If you ever saw the 1964 film "Zulu" (with a very young Michael Caine) you'll remember the siege of Rorke's Drift--- a great set-piece of cinema. And a grand depiction of a battle. I saw the film long ago, and then sought out books on the Zulu Wars. "The Washing of the Spears", forty-odd years since it first appeared, is very much a classic. It's old-school writing: blood-and-thunder, individual bravery, grand scenes. And surprisingly sensitive and sympathetic to the Zulu, while still understand If you ever saw the 1964 film "Zulu" (with a very young Michael Caine) you'll remember the siege of Rorke's Drift--- a great set-piece of cinema. And a grand depiction of a battle. I saw the film long ago, and then sought out books on the Zulu Wars. "The Washing of the Spears", forty-odd years since it first appeared, is very much a classic. It's old-school writing: blood-and-thunder, individual bravery, grand scenes. And surprisingly sensitive and sympathetic to the Zulu, while still understanding the bloody nature of leadership and politics inside the tribal kingdoms of South Africa. Powerful, well-written, thrilling, well-researched. See the film, read "Washing of the Spears"--- do both.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I don't know why, but I'm fascinated by the Zulus and their encounter with European civilization. The book's beginning and end are really strong, while the in-between plods. The beginning details the arrival of the Zulus and the Europeans in southern Africa. The situation he describes is different than the standard colonization narrative. According to the author, the arrival in mass of the Bantu -- of which the Zulu were a small clan -- in what was to prove the southernmost reaches of Zululand wa I don't know why, but I'm fascinated by the Zulus and their encounter with European civilization. The book's beginning and end are really strong, while the in-between plods. The beginning details the arrival of the Zulus and the Europeans in southern Africa. The situation he describes is different than the standard colonization narrative. According to the author, the arrival in mass of the Bantu -- of which the Zulu were a small clan -- in what was to prove the southernmost reaches of Zululand was not much more than a century or two prior to that of European colonists. Both Bantu and European displaced a weaker groups of native Africans, who had themselves displaced the Bushmen. (The book was written 50 years ago so there may well be more current information on these issues.) The Dutch settlers that came to be known as Boers were in southern Africa for over two-hundred years before the Zulu war with the British Imperial army and its colonial and native allies. By the time of the Zulu War, these Boers were no longer "colonists" in any meaningful sense of the word -- they were themselves essentially natives. The author clearly relishes his work in describing the great founder of the Zulu Empire, Shaka -- who is an immensely interesting figure. Not nearly so interesting are the many colonial figures and descriptions of colonial affairs that constitute the middle 300 pages of the book. The books roars back to life with the climactic battles of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift. At Isandlwana, the British army suffered its worst defeat at the hands of a native force. 20,000 Zulus annihilated a 1,500 man component of the invading British army. The Zulu's took no prisoners, and once the British position was surrounded by the Zulu pincers, no man on the British side escaped. Hundreds of native allies fled at the onset of the battle, but only 60 Europeans of around 800 present survived. The scene portrayed by the author is intense and terrifying. Alone in a remote wilderness at the bottom of the world, the British are suddenly surrounded by an enormous, merciless host of screaming warriors, each of whom take a particular joy in disemboweling their victims. The army, though caught at unawares, holds off the Zulus as they stream to the scene, seemingly out the hills themselves. The, ammunition begins to run low, and the reserve cartridges are found to be sealed in difficult to open crates. Any even momentary lapse in fire allows Zulus to to penetrate the British defense and stream into the camp. As guns run out of ammunition and soldiers frantically try to open the reserves, Zulus pour into the camp. Like a tidal wave, 20,000 warriors overrun the remaining survivors from all directions. In the end, only a few are left to fight in a shrinking circle, back to back, before every last man is hacked to pieces. Hours later, at nearby Rorke's Drift, a tiny British garrison of around 140 men was surrounded and assaulted by a Zulu army of 4,000. Somehow, the British force held on and when the sun arose the next day, the Zulu army was gone. The ferocious, close-quarters fighting described is riveting -- one can only imagine the desperation of fighting a battle with no possibility of retreat or surrender. In all of these encounters, the incredible courage displayed by the Zulus, as they charged guns and artillery while often holding only spears, is dramatically apparent. As is the injustice and colossal waste of humanity resulting from the unauthorized attack on the Zulu nation by an overzealous colonial official -- an attack not desired by the London or the British people. Equally apparent is the incredible odds able to be overcome by even a tiny force when properly arrayed with modern weaponry. Only significant human error permitted Isandlwana. A 20-1 advantage in manpower is readily overcome when breach-loading rifles face spears. The undoing of the Zulu nation is a sad story, though few tears were probably shed by surrounding tribes. After all, mere decades before Isandlwana, Shaka's relentless efforts to expand the Zulu nation ultimately led to chaos on a Biblical scale, with the mass displacement and death of hundred of thousands, and perhaps even millions, of Africans. He never lived to see the mightiest army in the history of black Africa stand victorious at Isandlwana, but he made that day possible, and was responsible for infinitely more bloodshed than was spilt on that famous field. I was astonished to learn one side-note of tremendous historical significance. A chapter of the book is devoted to the story of Louis Napoleon, the "Prince Imperial." Louis was the son of Napolean III -- the first President of the French Republic, the last monarch of France, and the nephew of THE Napolean. Louis ended up serving in the British army in the Zulu War, and dying alone at the hands of a small band of Zulus. Though only a single death of a junior officer in a war where thousands would die, it sent shockwaves through Europe, and changed history in ways we can never know. With him died any hope of a return of the Bonapartes to the throne of France. All, it turns out, because of foolishness and miscommunication on the part of the British officers charged with keeping him safe. A mere 35 years before World War I, in the remote reaches of southern Africa, a handful of Zulu tribesmen overran and slaughtered a 23 year lieutenant, not having any idea that he was a Napolean or what that would even mean to the world.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Saunders

    Donald R. Morris’s The Washing of the Spears details the saga of the Zulu Kingdom in 19th Century South Africa. A loose confederation of Bantu clans, the Zulu didn’t really exist until the formidable King Shaka welded them into a formidable military empire. In the span of just twelve years (1816-1828), Shaka expanded their Kingdom across 80,000 square miles of South Africa, overwhelming or displacing rival groups (from the Xhosa to the Dutch-descended Boers) while establishing a sophisticated mi Donald R. Morris’s The Washing of the Spears details the saga of the Zulu Kingdom in 19th Century South Africa. A loose confederation of Bantu clans, the Zulu didn’t really exist until the formidable King Shaka welded them into a formidable military empire. In the span of just twelve years (1816-1828), Shaka expanded their Kingdom across 80,000 square miles of South Africa, overwhelming or displacing rival groups (from the Xhosa to the Dutch-descended Boers) while establishing a sophisticated military-agricultural society. Their dominance, however, was short-lived; as Shaka’s successors foundered in factional disputes and civil war, the British Empire began creeping inland from its enclaves at Natal, slowly suborning Zulu authority. This finally came to a head in 1879, as British commissioner Henry Bartle Frere, pursuing his dreams of South African Confederation, presented Zulu King Cetshwayo with an unreasonable ultimatum as a pretext for conquest. The resulting conflict became one of the most famous epics of the Victorian Era: Cetshwayo’s impis annihilated Lord Chelmsford’s ill-prepared British column at Isandlwana (their rifles and cannon no match for the Zulu’s ferocious assegais), only to fall victim to better-organized punitive expeditions that crushed the Zulu kingdom and reduced them to vassals of the British. Britain’s victory didn’t slake the imperial lust, resulting in the further subjugation of other native peoples and a bloody guerilla war with the Boers - leaving scars which still haven’t healed today. Morris, an American writer, published this book in 1965 and isn’t immune to the usual flaws of Western historians covering Africa. He uses outdated ethnic terminology to describe certain African groups which is now considered insensitive if not actively racist; he relies largely on British sources (though, as he admits to the foreword of the 1985 version, he didn’t have access to Zulu and South African sources at the time he wrote it); his accounts of battles succumb to blood-and-thunder excitement that sometimes overcomes his attempts at an objective portrait of imperialism. He also has a tendency to fall down rabbit holes into side topics, like a discussion of the Oxfordian controversy in the Anglican Church (prompted by Bishop Colenso’s entry into the story) that are at best tangential and bog down the story. Even considering these handicaps, Morris does an admirable job conveying the Zulu as a proud, productive and surprisingly complex nation, sometimes admirable in their courage and industriousness, often as ambitious and imperialist as their white rivals, never undeserving of respect and thoughtful study. The result is a colorful, occasionally dated but well-rounded, compelling historical saga; popular history at its best.

  7. 5 out of 5

    James

    Read earlier edition in the late 80s after visiting parents in Gaborone in 1983. The Zulu history written in James Mitchener's The Covenant and this book match, as well as the incident depicted in the films Zulu (http://tinyurl.com/h7o6b) and Zulu Dawn (http://qurl.com/mw8zn). It is rare that a historical event/period is portrayed so accurately in two books AND two movies. I recommend both books and films if anyone is interested in the Zulu wars. The television film Shaka Zulu> (http://qurl.com/ Read earlier edition in the late 80s after visiting parents in Gaborone in 1983. The Zulu history written in James Mitchener's The Covenant and this book match, as well as the incident depicted in the films Zulu (http://tinyurl.com/h7o6b) and Zulu Dawn (http://qurl.com/mw8zn). It is rare that a historical event/period is portrayed so accurately in two books AND two movies. I recommend both books and films if anyone is interested in the Zulu wars. The television film Shaka Zulu> (http://qurl.com/ny1kz) is another great source.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Hughes

    If you only read one chapter of this book, make sure it's the one about the defense of Rorke's Drift. Awesome. then watch the movie Zulu. If you only read one chapter of this book, make sure it's the one about the defense of Rorke's Drift. Awesome. then watch the movie Zulu.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I think I read the Shaka part of this in the 2000's. I think I read the Shaka part of this in the 2000's.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carina

    I am having a really hard time in rating this book. First - I am not a fan of non-fiction books really so trying to judge this in comparison to other books (the main way I rate books if the rating doesn't immediately come to me) is not fair as my bases of comparison is fictional works. Second - I stopped reading this book for .... four months or so because it was so... *yawn*. So... yeah. There are parts of this that are really good (although it is certainly not up to the same standard as other I am having a really hard time in rating this book. First - I am not a fan of non-fiction books really so trying to judge this in comparison to other books (the main way I rate books if the rating doesn't immediately come to me) is not fair as my bases of comparison is fictional works. Second - I stopped reading this book for .... four months or so because it was so... *yawn*. So... yeah. There are parts of this that are really good (although it is certainly not up to the same standard as other non-fiction war books I've read such as 'Nam' or 'We Were Soldiers Once and Young') but I don't think there were enough really interesting bits to make up for the fact that the main part of this (the section after Shaka but before the battles of Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift in particular as that caused the four month hiatus) that are just far too dense. I think this has to be a 2.5 star rating basically, but as the site doesn't allow that I'm going to bump this to 3 stars. Like I said, not my genre and this was written quite some time ago so the writing style is different. (That and honestly, I would say I liked the book overall and that is what three stars on here means!) So, now I have worked out the rating onto actually reviewing the book (something I don't do a lot of in my reviews actually!). This book is split into two sections - the first details the 'European' colonisation of the area, the history of the natives, the rise of Shaka and events after his death but prior to the 'invasion'. Now, I found the majority of this to be interesting - the history of the Bantu especially and how Shaka was able to unify the nation. However, the book started to take a turn towards snoozeville when the focus switched to the British. Now, I am British but... how the hell did we have an Empire??? I mean, the treatment of the soldiers was appalling, and maybe it is just me but when one problem happened the guy that was sent to fix it just did the same thing as the guy before him, and so on and so forth! It just... makes no sense to me at all. And granted, this might have been part of why I lost interest in the early part of part two of this book - aka the confederation chapter. Part two of the book deals with the reasons why the invasion/war was 'needed', the preparations for the invasion, the events of the invasions and the aftermath. Ultimately I'd say that generally this was an interesting section of the book - if you remove the chapters called Confederation and Preparations. These sections seem to deal with political wrangling so if you find that kind of thing interesting you might enjoy those, if on the other hand you hate politics - definitely not your chapters. I found the chapter about Isandhlwana interesting, only because I had never heard of it. Perhaps it is just me, but I kind of feel that rather than spending so much time on the Tudors, Stuarts etcetera in History class maybe it would have made sense to spend some time on more modern events - especially on a battle that is described as being worse than Custers Land Stand in the US (and is according to Wikipedia still the "single greatest defeat for the British Army at the hands of a native army"). It might have just been my curriculum but I am pretty sure we never actually spent any time on the Victorian era. I know we did the early history of the UK, but I honestly don't think we ever covered anything to do with the British Empire unless it related to WW1 and WW2 - the Boer War I know was merely a passing reference as to why we were involved in WW1 in the first place. Now I know this is not the Boer War but surely such events should be more than footnotes in our history? Ah well... the Rorke's Drift chapter was, I think, my favourite in that I had seen parts of Zulu numerous times (though not all the way through) and reading about the actual events was really interesting (having now watched the film fully for the first time ever having read this, and assuming the book to be accurate - the film takes a few (a lot) liberties with the events but is generally (I think) well portrayed)). I'm actually going to be skimming through that section again now as I don't recall it mentioning Chard who is a key character in the film. I also found the section on the Imperial Prince to be interesting - I had heard of Eugenie but had no idea who she actually was. Now, I mentioned accuracy... well, there are some elements of this book that I read and I wonder how the hell the author knows that information - now he provides what looks to be an extensive bibliography and comments on sources (got to love the fact that he says the Colenso's work to be rather dense!) and generally this book comes across as being well researched and un-opinionated. That said, any book written well after the period of time it discusses is going to have inaccuracies - but who can say for certain what is accurate and what isn't? Overall, this was an informative, if not overly readable book. I doubt I will read it again but it has certainly made me more interested in this period of history (and with any luck I'll be making a return trip to the museum in Brecon which holds a lot of memorabilia from these events - I'll be better able to appreciate it now I know more about the events!)

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    4.5 stars. This book is a huge surprise. Written in the mid 1960s, it manages to maintain a careful and objective attitude towards both sides of a confused situation. Morris pulls no punches, in addressing either the Zulus or the British, and this equal opportunity critical analysis makes this a very impressive read. Covering the history of Natal and the Zulu nation from the 17th century until the end of the 19th century, this book is an exhaustive yet very engaging chronicle of a war started deli 4.5 stars. This book is a huge surprise. Written in the mid 1960s, it manages to maintain a careful and objective attitude towards both sides of a confused situation. Morris pulls no punches, in addressing either the Zulus or the British, and this equal opportunity critical analysis makes this a very impressive read. Covering the history of Natal and the Zulu nation from the 17th century until the end of the 19th century, this book is an exhaustive yet very engaging chronicle of a war started deliberately by the British, fought bravely by both sides, and ultimately leading to the destruction of the greatest military power ever seen in sub-Saharan Africa. What truly impressed me was the amount of time Morris spent addressing the history of the Zulu people, especially the rise and fall of Shaka in the early 19th century. This attention to Bantu culture and customs made the mistakes made by Europeans even more glaring, and showed the lies and ignorance present in the attitude of the "white man's burden" towards other cultures. At the same time, Morris doesn't hold the Zulus up as "noble savages", as so often happens with portrayals of native cultures. They are people, with all the same strengths and failings as anyone else, and the chains of misunderstanding and cultural incompatibility make it clear that both sides accelerated towards conflict (though there is no question that the British deliberately instigated the war, demanding unmeetable concessions from a foreign leader of a sovereign country with whom they were not at war). The great battles that will always be remembered, Isandlwana, Rorke's Drift, Hlobane, Ulundi... this single year defined British colonial attitudes for an entire era, and showed both the dangers inherent in underestimating ones opponents, and the inevitable triumph of technology in warfare.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Isern

    Dated, but classic. It seems to hold high regard for being a page-turner, full of bloody action and human interest. It is, too, worthy of thoughtful reading by anyone interested in racial conflicts on colonial frontiers. A half-century on, of course, The Washing of the Spears lacks some of the sensibilities and approaches of our oh-so-sophisticated twenty-first century. There is, for instance, once you get to the core conflict recounted in the book, no hint of Zulu agency. Zulus just swarm like b Dated, but classic. It seems to hold high regard for being a page-turner, full of bloody action and human interest. It is, too, worthy of thoughtful reading by anyone interested in racial conflicts on colonial frontiers. A half-century on, of course, The Washing of the Spears lacks some of the sensibilities and approaches of our oh-so-sophisticated twenty-first century. There is, for instance, once you get to the core conflict recounted in the book, no hint of Zulu agency. Zulus just swarm like bees, or they sting like hornets; they do not plan, strategize, or adapt. They die in droves, without thinking much about it. So don't go to this book to find out what the Zulus are trying to do. But for what the British and colonial troops are trying to do, Morris is superb. His discussion of the long tail of British operations is masterly, and is set in the context of a conundrum: a modern army trying to operate divorced from industrialized transport, out of reach of steamships or steam railways. Mules, oxen, Boer wagons, forward bases, couriers, so many things to go wrong! Right down to how many screws there were holding down the lid of a box of cartridges, and the shortage of screwdrivers at Isandlwana. Personal takeaway: as someone trying to make sense of the Dakota War of the 1860s, I realized that no historian ever has analyzed this North American conflict with the approach of Morris. Much to be gained thereby.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jeni Enjaian

    A review from my old blog... I give a warning at the beginning. This is a book for history nerds only. :D While this book took me quite some time to read (because of the enormous length--614 pages--and because of Election Day interruptions) I enjoyed the book. At the same time it was quite a chore to read. The only reason that the book seemed to make sense to me was because I took a class on the history of Africa and watched a video of the battle that took nearly three hundred pages to recount... o A review from my old blog... I give a warning at the beginning. This is a book for history nerds only. :D While this book took me quite some time to read (because of the enormous length--614 pages--and because of Election Day interruptions) I enjoyed the book. At the same time it was quite a chore to read. The only reason that the book seemed to make sense to me was because I took a class on the history of Africa and watched a video of the battle that took nearly three hundred pages to recount... or at least I think it took that length. I found myself confused as the chapters progressed and Morris sort of backtracked when he switched to a new chapter to tell about another flank or division of the British army. I apologize if I confuse anyone. I myself found myself confused by this. In addition, the small print and large paragraphs also made the book more difficult to read through my normal method. (I tend to in depth skim :D) I do recommend the book for anyone interested in African history, specifically South African history. I find it intriguing to consider that the province with the highest AIDS infection rate in South Africa (or pretty close to the top) is KwaZuluNatal... or the Zululand of this book. Unless you have a history fascination or the above mentioned fascination I do not recommend the book unless you need material to fall asleep to.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    This was an excellent book. It is divided into two parts, as mentioned in the title. The first part starts slow and is meticulously researched and details the history and evolution of the Zulu empire and the tribal politics associated with the successors to Shaka. The book picks up with the depiction of the Zulu War and the movements in each battle are thoroughly detailed and explained. I really enjoyed it, particularly the chapter on Rorke's Drift This was an excellent book. It is divided into two parts, as mentioned in the title. The first part starts slow and is meticulously researched and details the history and evolution of the Zulu empire and the tribal politics associated with the successors to Shaka. The book picks up with the depiction of the Zulu War and the movements in each battle are thoroughly detailed and explained. I really enjoyed it, particularly the chapter on Rorke's Drift

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Reed

    I always love it when history books are page turners. Morris tells the entire story of the Zulus, from their unification under Shaka to the British invasion and finally their fall under Dinuzulu. Isandlwana and Roarke's Drift are covered in detail as is the entire campaign leading up to the Battle of Ulundi. I always love it when history books are page turners. Morris tells the entire story of the Zulus, from their unification under Shaka to the British invasion and finally their fall under Dinuzulu. Isandlwana and Roarke's Drift are covered in detail as is the entire campaign leading up to the Battle of Ulundi.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    An incrediably detailed and well researched account of the rise and fall of the Zulu Empire. Many chapters, especially the opening of the 1879 War where Morris focuses on individuals and narrates events from their perspective read like an adventure novel from the Victorian era. For me this book brought this period of history to life and I found the book a page turner.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jonnie Enloe

    you really cannot put this book down if this subject interests you at all. Read before the Boer War. Sheds light on British history of oppression among "more ignorant" peoples of the world. The Zulu nation proves it's metal and is not defeated because of it's lack of command, tactics or bravery. you really cannot put this book down if this subject interests you at all. Read before the Boer War. Sheds light on British history of oppression among "more ignorant" peoples of the world. The Zulu nation proves it's metal and is not defeated because of it's lack of command, tactics or bravery.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Hamilton Wende

    Excellent overview of a crucial period in South African history.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Holly Haze

    This was a tough read for me. I'm not much for historical pieces but this book came highly recommended to me by someone quite special. So I went out of my comfort zone and instead of reading for pleasure, I read for basic knowledge. I don't regret that decision; however, I probably will stick with what I like best. With that being said, I did learn a lot. It's not that I was ignorant to other cultures and societies, but I will say I was naïve. It was really quite interesting to see how certain t This was a tough read for me. I'm not much for historical pieces but this book came highly recommended to me by someone quite special. So I went out of my comfort zone and instead of reading for pleasure, I read for basic knowledge. I don't regret that decision; however, I probably will stick with what I like best. With that being said, I did learn a lot. It's not that I was ignorant to other cultures and societies, but I will say I was naïve. It was really quite interesting to see how certain tribes were formed and what their rituals were. Whether it be diet related, relating to their relationships, the hierarchy, the traditions, the list goes on. It was an eye-opener for sure. It's a tough read. I'm not going to lie. It's boring in some parts, I wanted to throw in the towel more times than I can tell you. But if you have any desire to learn about this history, you will learn a lot from this book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Barry

    A well researched and well written work that holds up even after all these years. While the centerpiece of the book is the Zulu War the first half does a credible job giving a history of the Dutch and English colonization of South Africa and the migration of the Zulu's south leading to the creation of their Empire under Shaka. The war is covered well although at times (particularly the section dealing with the Prince Imperial) does have a touch of "Boys Own Adventure" prose. Rorkes Drift is cov A well researched and well written work that holds up even after all these years. While the centerpiece of the book is the Zulu War the first half does a credible job giving a history of the Dutch and English colonization of South Africa and the migration of the Zulu's south leading to the creation of their Empire under Shaka. The war is covered well although at times (particularly the section dealing with the Prince Imperial) does have a touch of "Boys Own Adventure" prose. Rorkes Drift is covered well as are a few of the lesser known battles but the conclusion of the war seems rushed. One significant failing in my view is the paucity of maps. There is a good diagram of Rorkes Drift but the other battles get minimal cartographic assistance and a general map of the area (to put locations in context) would be helpful.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lewis Brown

    I liked this book a lot, it provides an incredible amount of detail regarding the rise of the Zulu nation, and moreso on the development of European settlements in the region. My only complaint is that it very often is too detailed, and it can be difficult to follow who is who due to the vast amount of names that are raised. Similarly, large chunks of the book are incredibly slow reads due to the level of detail in every area of the history. While some will like this level of detail, it made it d I liked this book a lot, it provides an incredible amount of detail regarding the rise of the Zulu nation, and moreso on the development of European settlements in the region. My only complaint is that it very often is too detailed, and it can be difficult to follow who is who due to the vast amount of names that are raised. Similarly, large chunks of the book are incredibly slow reads due to the level of detail in every area of the history. While some will like this level of detail, it made it difficult for me to stick with the book at times and tempted me to drop it. Despite these flaws though generally the book is really well written and provides an entertaining depiction of the history, especially the battles which are the highlight of the book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    I have long been fascinated by the Zulu Empire's multiple military victories over the British Empire. The best book I have ever read on colonial warfare in Africa and good draft of South African history. A really detailed book written by a former CIA officer who takes the time to for example describe theological churches in protestant churches in South Africa during the mid-19th century. One of my all time favorites and one of a handful of books I took with me to Malawi for my Fulbright grant. I I have long been fascinated by the Zulu Empire's multiple military victories over the British Empire. The best book I have ever read on colonial warfare in Africa and good draft of South African history. A really detailed book written by a former CIA officer who takes the time to for example describe theological churches in protestant churches in South Africa during the mid-19th century. One of my all time favorites and one of a handful of books I took with me to Malawi for my Fulbright grant. I sat in on my desk and would discuss the book with my Ngoni (more of less closely related to the Zulu) colleagues.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Lang

    5 stars for the chapters on rorkes drift, Isandlwana and origins of the Zulu Nation and Cape Colony. Then there was a lot of burdensome detail. The book ran a fine line between entertaining narrative and all inclusive academia. I think for a more casual reader a good editor could have clipped out some of the characters who didn't need much spotlight but the finished work seems to be comprehensive to a fault which I believe was the intent of the author. I was most impressed by the fair and balance 5 stars for the chapters on rorkes drift, Isandlwana and origins of the Zulu Nation and Cape Colony. Then there was a lot of burdensome detail. The book ran a fine line between entertaining narrative and all inclusive academia. I think for a more casual reader a good editor could have clipped out some of the characters who didn't need much spotlight but the finished work seems to be comprehensive to a fault which I believe was the intent of the author. I was most impressed by the fair and balanced approach he took to White and African, despot and hero. An impressive accomplishment and I'm glad I read it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Demario Morris

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. My name is demario morris i came up with the demario morris theory thought and fact about shocka zulu i contacted you on word press we talked about the sun god Osiris and Oasis i put on there about Cleopatra awesome female dormancy we talked a little more and then you took 1 you took one of each off except the female Donna C that was the only one that didn't have it each so you took that one that's the only one that was left there was no more so whoever what happened know about My name is demario morris i came up with the demario morris theory thought and fact about shocka zulu i contacted you on word press we talked about the sun god Osiris and Oasis i put on there about Cleopatra awesome female dormancy we talked a little more and then you took 1 you took one of each off except the female Donna C that was the only one that didn't have it each so you took that one that's the only one that was left there was no more so whoever what happened know about

  25. 4 out of 5

    Keith Axberg

    This book was very in-depth and filled with far more historical information that I could assimilate in the first read-through. I will definitely put it on a shelf to be re-read. I do wish there had been a few more maps sprinkled throughout as those included were generally decent for an over-view, but I would have appreciated some more detailed close-ups, especially regarding the campaigns and various battles. But the writing was clear and riveting.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Roy McCullough

    Still a classic account of the rise and fall of the Zulu nation, sweeping in scope and engagingly written. Morris’ research has likely been superseded by more recent scholarship but his account of the actions at Isandhlwana and Rorke’s Drift still makes for compelling reading.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mark Morgan

    A quite brilliant book about the birth of the Zulu nation through to the Zulu War of 1879 and beyond. Really interesting account of how the Zulus got their fearsome reputation, any one interested in this era should read this book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Gao

    A wonderful introduction to the awesome culture of the Zulus. Instead of Wakanda 4ever, it should be Zululand 4ever!

  29. 5 out of 5

    William Sariego

    This is history how it should be, but often isn't written. Morris is informative with his scholarship but remains readable. A definitive history on its subject matter and highly recommended. This is history how it should be, but often isn't written. Morris is informative with his scholarship but remains readable. A definitive history on its subject matter and highly recommended.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth Schultz

    Excellent account of the rise and fall of the Zulu nation. HIghly recommended

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