The best books on the rise and fall of the Zulu kingdom

James Oliver Gump Author Of The Dust Rose Like Smoke: The Subjugation of the Zulu and the Sioux
By James Oliver Gump

Who am I?

I am a professor emeritus of history at the University of San Diego, and taught courses in African and South African history for over three decades. I have also written a number articles placing African topics in comparative perspective, including “A Spirit of Resistance:  Xhosa, Maori, and Sioux Responses to Western Dominance, 1840-1920” and “Unveiling the Third Force: Toward Transitional Justice in the USA and South Africa, 1973-1994,” as well as three books: The Formation of the Zulu Kingdom in South Africa and two editions of The Dust Rose Like Smoke: The Subjugation of the Zulu and the Sioux


I wrote...

The Dust Rose Like Smoke: The Subjugation of the Zulu and the Sioux

By James Oliver Gump,

Book cover of The Dust Rose Like Smoke: The Subjugation of the Zulu and the Sioux

What is my book about?

In 1876 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors annihilated Custer’s Seventh Cavalry on the Little Bighorn. Three years later and half a world away, a British force was wiped out by Zulu warriors at Isandhlwana in South Africa. In both cases, the total defeat of regular army troops by forces regarded as undisciplined barbarian tribesmen stunned an imperial nation.

The similarities between the two frontier encounters have long been noted, but James O. Gump is the first to scrutinize them in a comparative context. “This study issues a challenge to American exceptionalism,” he writes. Viewing both episodes as part of a global pattern of intensified conflict in the latter 1800s resulting from Western domination over a vast portion of the globe, he persuasively traces the comparisons in their origins and aftermath.

The books I picked & why

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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

By Donald R. Morris,

Book cover of 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

Why this book?

Morris’s history of the rise and fall of the Zulu kingdom remains a classic. Trained as a journalist, Morris presents a vivid, lively, and compelling narrative, tracing the rise of Shaka’s Zulu kingdom, the outbreak of war in 1879, and the tragic aftermath of civil war and national disintegration. Although more recent scholarship casts doubt on some of Morris’s assertions, his book remains the starting point for understanding the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.


Terrific Majesty: The Powers of Shaka Zulu and the Limits of Historical Invention

By Carolyn Hamilton,

Book cover of Terrific Majesty: The Powers of Shaka Zulu and the Limits of Historical Invention

Why this book?

Hamilton offers a thought-provoking monograph on the persistence of Shaka as a metaphor in South African history and politics and the changing representations of the famous Zulu king over time. Hamilton argues that the image of Shaka, contrary to most post-modernist interpretations, was not simply a colonial invention. Instead, she argues that Shaka’s image gained its durability and complexity from a mix of indigenous narratives as well as colonial ones.


The Heretic: A Study of the Life of John William Colenso, 1814-1883

By Jeff Guy,

Book cover of The Heretic: A Study of the Life of John William Colenso, 1814-1883

Why this book?

Guy, a prolific historian of Zulu history, writes the definitive biography of John William Colenso, bishop of Natal between 1852 and his death in 1883. Throughout the last decade of his life, Colenso championed the rights of Africans in Natal and Zululand and became a major critic of Britain’s pre-emptive war against the Zulu kingdom. In particular, Colenso came to regard his former friend Theophilus Shepstone (Natal’s Secretary of Native Affairs) as a principal advocate for the Anglo-Zulu War, a conflict Colenso described as “most unjustifiable and wicked.”


Zulu Rising: The Epic Story of iSandlwana and Rorke's Drift

By Ian Knight,

Book cover of Zulu Rising: The Epic Story of iSandlwana and Rorke's Drift

Why this book?

Knight, a British historian, has spent his career studying and writing about the Anglo-Zulu War and is the author of the award-winning National Army Museum Book of the Zulu War. No one is more intimately familiar with the sources on this conflict, and especially the epic battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift.  His book offers a compelling narrative of these battles from both an indigenous and western perspective.


A History of South Africa

By Leonard Thompson,

Book cover of A History of South Africa

Why this book?

Thompson, professor of history at Yale University between 1969 and 1986, became the dean of South African historians, and his text remains the best one-volume history of South Africa. His early chapters provide the essential context for understanding the imperial subjugation of southern Africa in the nineteenth century, especially “The White Invaders,” “African Wars and White Invaders:  Southeast Africa, 1770-1870,” and “Diamonds, Gold and British Imperialism, 1870-1910.”


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Zulu people, South Africa, and the Zulu Kingdom?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Zulu people, South Africa, and the Zulu Kingdom.

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South Africa Explore 73 books about South Africa
The Zulu Kingdom Explore 10 books about the Zulu Kingdom

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