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

The Books I Picked & Why

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

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.


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

By Carolyn Hamilton

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.


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

By Jeff Guy

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.”


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

By Ian Knight

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.


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A History of South Africa

By Leonard Thompson

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.”


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