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.

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The books I picked & why

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 did I love 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.

By Donald R. Morris,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Washing of the Spears as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1879, armed only with their spears, their rawhide shields, and their incredible courage, the Zulus challenged the might of Victorian England and, initially, inflicted on the British the worst defeat a modern army has ever suffered at the hands of men without guns. This definitive account of the rise of the Zulu nation under the great ruler Shaka and its fall under Cetshwayo has been acclaimed for its scholarship, its monumental range, and its spellbinding readability. The story is studded with tales of drama and heroism: the Battle of Isandhlwana, where the Zulu army wiped out the major British…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Carolyn Hamilton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Terrific Majesty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since his assassination in 1828, King Shaka Zulu-founder of the powerful Zulu kingdom and leader of the army that nearly toppled British colonial rule in South Africa-has made his empire in popular imaginations throughout Africa and the West. Shaka is today the hero of Zulu nationalism, the centerpiece of Inkatha ideology, a demon of apartheid, the namesake of a South African theme park, even the subject of a major TV film.

Terrific Majesty explores the reasons for the potency of Shaka's image, examining the ways it has changed over time-from colonial legend, through Africanist idealization, to modern cultural icon. This…

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

Why did I love 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.”

By Jeff Guy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Heretic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

John William Colenso died in 1883, a Mathematician and controversial missionary Bishop of Natal. During his life, he scandalized Victorians by showing that the Bible could not be accepted as the literal word of God. He was subsequently found guilty of heresy and excommunicated by the Anglican Church Undaunted by the antagonism of his contemporaries, Colenso then attempted to expose and rectify the injustices inflicted upon the Africans of Natal and Zululand by the British in the late 19th century.

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

Why did I love 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.

By Ian Knight,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Zulu Rising as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The battle of iSandlwana was the single most destructive incident in the 150-year history of the British colonisation of South Africa. In one bloody day over 800 British troops, 500 of their allies and at least 2000 Zulus were killed in a staggering defeat for the British empire. The consequences of the battle echoed brutally across the following decades as Britain took ruthless revenge on the Zulu people.

In Zulu Rising Ian Knight shows that the brutality of the battle was the result of an inevitable clash between two aggressive warrior traditions. For the first time he gives full weight…

A History of South Africa

By Leonard Thompson,

Book cover of A History of South Africa

Why did I love 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.”

By Leonard Thompson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A History of South Africa as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fresh and penetrating exploration of South Africa's history, from the earliest known human inhabitation of the region to the present

"I did not think it was possible for a white person to write a history of South Africa which a black South African would find to be a fair and accurate account of a beautiful land and its people. Leonard Thompson has disabused me of that notion. His is a history that is both accurate and authentic, written in a delightful literary style."-Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The Fourth Edition of this classic text brings South Africa's history up to date…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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