Friday, January 2, 2009

Good Books for Nonfiction Book Discussion Groups —Suzanne

Playing the Enemy by John Carlin
I've admired Nelson Mandela for a long time. Without his leadership, South Africa's transition to majority rule would probably have been a lot more violent than it was. This book cemented my admiration for the man—and taught me a bit about rugby, which is like American football but without the protective equipment. I watched a YouTube video of the 1995 World Cup match and one of the Springbok players singing the South African national anthem. This is a truly inspiring book. It’s also timely, since Barack Obama has said he wants to be president of the entire US and bring people together. If you think this is an unrealistic hope, read Carlin’s account of what Mandela did for his country. Obama would do well to take some lessons from Mandela, who consistently made the effort to learn about his political opponents, to get inside their heads and hearts, and to appeal to the best in them.

The Springboks, South Africa’s rugby team, were banned from international competition as a result of worldwide condemnation of the country’s apartheid regime. Because the team members were predominantly white Afrikaners, the team was a recognizable and hated symbol of apartheid to blacks. Nelson Mandela, president of the African National Congress, whose efforts were instrumental in ending apartheid, represented everything white South Africans feared. After majority rule was instituted and Mandela became the country’s first black president they worried that their rights would be curtailed. Carlin tells the surprising and moving story of how Mandela and the Springboks players united to bring all South Africans together through sports.

I plan to use this book in my nonfiction book group. Carlin provides enough background about South African history and about Mandela’s life to make the story comprehensible. The book should launch a good discussion about political and moral leadership.

Reviewed by Suzanne

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