‘Knowing Mandela’, by John Carlin

Knowing Mandela, by John Carlin, Atlantic Books, RRP£8.99, 160 pages

The four febrile years between Nelson Mandela’s release and his inauguration are well illuminated in this “short book about a big man” by journalist John Carlin. Knowing Mandela is a note-aided recollection of interviews, press conferences, speeches and the like. But it is also an attempt to get at the characteristics that made the man what he was, and the world awestruck at what he achieved.

As Carlin concludes, he embodied “four qualities – integrity, respect, charisma, and empathy”. Though such noble sentiments provide an awkward backdrop against which to air niggles, a few merit mention. Carlin’s prose soars at times but can be clunky or overblown – most grating of all, Mandela is supposed to have separated family anguish from political exigencies by “a kind of self-imposed apartheid of the mind”. Still, there is much anecdotal succour for readers keen to grasp how Mandela made fans of foes.

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